Essential Guide to Chocolate
Your Essential Guide to Chocolate – How to be a healthy chocoholic
Where did it come from?
It’s estimated that chocolate has been around for over 2,000 years. However the cocoa bean existed long before this. The crop was originally grown by ancient indigenous South American cultures, who used it to make hot chocolates.
According to the World Cocoa Foundation the Spanish Conquistadors came across this cocoa drink when invading the native lands and added spices and sugar to it. After that, the popularity of this new, rich, sweet hot chocolate soared, and though the Spanish tried (and succeeded for 100 years) they could not keep the method of its creationm a secret. The rest of Europe latched on and hot chocolates were served to the social elite, worldwide.
Solid chocolate was then invented by Joseph Fry, when he found that adding cocoa butter to cocoa powder formed a solid mass. Later on, Daniel Peter, a Swiss chocolatier (and neighbour to Henri Nestlé) experimented with the addition of condensed milk and hence, milk chocolate was then born.
Today, over 4.5 million tonnes of cocoa beans are consumed annually, around the world.
Out of the (chocolate) box ideas
Though a scrumptious stand-alone treat, chocolate can be used in far more ways than one. Why not try one of these deliciously vegan ideas:
Cocoa breakfast bites: Whip up this raw recipe in no time. Add walnuts, oats and unsweetened cocoa powder to a food processor and blitz until the nuts are in small pieces. Add dates and a teaspoon of peanut butter, and blitz again. When the mixture is thick and sticky, slightly wet your hands and roll small spoonfuls of the mixture into balls. Chill the balls in the fridge for at least an hour (or leave them in there overnight to grab and go in the morning).
Chocolate avocado mousse: This deliciously wholesome dessert needs only five ingredients. Blend a ripe avocado, a little cocoa powder, almond milk, maple syrup and vanilla extract together for a sweet, rich and healthy chocolate mousse. Grab a back issue of the September 2018 PlantBased for the full recipe (p.45).
Kicking coconut hot chocolate: Indulge in the last days of winter with a decadently rich hot chocolate. For this warming drink, add coconut milk, dark chocolate and a little maple syrup or agave nectar to a pan over a low heat. Mix continually until all of the chocolate has melted. Add a very small sprinkle of chilli powder to the pan, mix again and serve in your favourite mug.
Picking the perfect (vegan) chocolate
The simple act of buying a chocolate bar isn’t always an easy feat when you’re vegan. If you’re close to a health store or supermarket which stocks specialist vegan chocolates, that’s great, but more often than not, you’ll be reliant on the accidentally vegan chocolate offerings in your local shops. This then results in a lot of time spent pondering over ingredient lists; so, to make it a little easier, here’s a few of the key ingredients to watch out for when choosing your chocolate:
- Milk – Usually written in bold, as it is counted as an allergen (as are most of the below milk-derived products), the large amount of non-vegan chocolate will contain high quantities of cow’s milk.
- Whey powder – Whey is one of the two proteins in milk (the other being casein) and is a by-product of the cheese-making process. It has also been found that a product called rennet is used in the production of some whey powders; this chemical is reportedly sourced from
- Skimmed milk powder – Present in many non-vegan chocolates, this powder is made by removing the water from pasteurized milk.
- Lactose – A sugar present in milk, lactose will often be present on the ingredients list of non-vegan chocolate. Though it is a sugar, it doesn’t actually add much sweetness to the chocolate, and so is fairly superfluous. Some chocolate will state it is lactose free, but this does NOT necessarily mean it is vegan.
- Milk solids – Similar to milk powder, milk solids are the substances left when all the water is removed from liquid milk.
- Non-vegan flavourings – Annoyingly, even if the chocolate in a chocolate bar is dairy-free, any added flavourings or filled centres may not be. Watch out for filled chocolates or those with added crunchy bits, as these could contain honey, gelatine, milk or other animal-derived products.
*Palm oil is also often used in the creation of chocolate, both vegan and non-vegan. And while this isn’t an animal-derived product, due to the devastation its farming process can cause, many people steer clear of it. Some companies have policies in place that ensure the palm oil or palm fat they use is sustainably sourced – a quick internet search will give you all the details.
How to make it healthy
A general rule is that dark chocolate is not only more likely to be accidentally vegan – more so than milk or white chocolates – but is also often a healthier option.
Most commercial chocolate, whether vegan or non-vegan, contains masses of sugar and fat; dark chocolate, however, tends to focus on higher quantities of cocoa powder and lesser amounts of other ingredients – often eliminating milk from the matter entirely and using cocoa butter in its place.
Regular consumption of small amounts of dark chocolate has even been said to help improve health. Cocoa itself contains compounds called flavanols, which, according to the British Nutrition Foundation (nutrition.org.uk), have been proven to help improve blood pressure, cholesterol and other elements of heart health. Therefore, thanks to dark chocolate’s high cocoa content, it too could offer similar benefits.
However, it’s all a question of balance – to be truly healthy, most suggest using purely organic raw cocoa, rather than chocolate; but a little dark chocolate isn’t the biggest diet crime. If you’re looking to indulge responsibly, opt for dairy-free dark chocolate with the highest possible cocoa content and lowest fat values. Or, add raw cocoa powder to a protein-rich treat, such as nut-based energy balls.
Find lots of information on ingredients in our glossary.
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