Dark Chocolate for the Darker Evenings
Who loves chocolate? I love chocolate! Winter is here and so the days are certainly getting shorter and the desire for wholesome, wintery comfort food is present. There\’s not no shame in that. My moto is always moderation not deprivation. This is especially true for me when it comes to chocolate. In particular, when it comes to dark chocolate which is considered a functional food.
What is a functional food?
A functional food is a food that provides additional benefits above its nutritional value. Other examples include turmeric, probiotic and prebiotic yogurts, fortified breads and omega-3 enriched eggs.
Origins & Properties
Dark chocolate comes from the seeds of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao. These seeds are commonly referred to as the cocoa beans.
The percentage on a bar of dark chocolate indicates how much of the bar, by weight, is made from the cocoa bean. The higher the percentage, the more intense and more bitter the chocolate is. Dark chocolate typically contains 55-99% cocoa. As the percentage of cocoa increases, the amount of added milk and sugar decreases.
100% dark chocolate may also be referred to as unsweetened, bitter or baking chocolate. It is 100% cocoa without added milk or sugar. Cocoa powder is the equivalent of unsweetened chocolate in a dry form. Dark chocolate can have a bitter taste, therefore 100% dark chocolate is reserved almost exclusively for baking.
Dark chocolate is a source of antioxidants such a flavanols and polyphenols. Cocoa flavanol can help lower blood pressure which is important for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
As part of a healthy, balanced diet, the ideal daily portion of dark chocolate is 25g of at least 70% cocoa. Portion size is important to remember as a typical bar (100 grams) of dark chocolate contains approximately 500 to 600 calories which may interfere with potential health benefits (and your waist line).
Think chocolate is only for baking? Think again.
Add a chocolaty twist to your oats by allowing a square or two of dark chocolate to melt into your bowl after the oats are cooked. Serve along with fresh berries to balance out the natural bitterness of the chocolate.
Pimp up your afternoon coffee with a teaspoon of cocoa powder. Mix the cocoa to a paste with a little milk (or plant-based alternative) or water before adding coffee and enjoy the rich aroma and comforting taste.
For a richer, silkier chilli con carne, drop two or three squares of dark chocolate into the pot for the final 10 minutes of simmering.
Not for pets
Dark chocolate may have health benefits for you however the same cannot be said for your pooch. Small amounts may cause an upset tummy but large amounts of chocolate may have much more serious effects on dogs who cannot tolerate theobromine. There are just some things that (wo)man and best friend should not share.
Theobromine, a chemical compound in chocolate, is linked to increased blood flow to the brain resulting in improved brain function. Who knew chocolate could make us smarter!
Amy Meegan, BSc (Hons) Human Nutrition, UCD