In one of the first studies of chocolate’s effect on weight, Dr. Beatrice Golomb’s report from March of 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, linked chocolate to “favorable metabolic associations with blood pressure (BP), insulin sensitivity, and cholesterol level.”
Results from the study (conducted on 1,000 Californians) suggest that individuals who consume chocolate more frequently (with exercise) have a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) than those who eat it less often. Chocoholics around the country rejoiced over the results! While this is all well and good, this is where a dilemma comes into play: every variation of chocolate is at our fingertips in a country of innovation and consumerism. Truffles, bars, syrups, powders, chips – the options are endless, and the packaging and media ads are temptingly creative and original. But not all chocolate is “good for you.” So how do you know what to buy?
To help answer this, I spoke to several top chocolate producers from around the country who develop and sell raw, vegan, organic and even certified biodynamic chocolates. At the end of the day, each one came to the same conclusion: Consumers need to do their homework.
Francisco Vivar of Pacari Chocolate in North America says the key to quality chocolate is managing the entire chocolate- making process. Pacari is the first single-origin organic chocolate made entirely in Ecuador, and possibly the only chocolate company in the U.S. to obtain the prestigious Demeter Biodynamic® Certification.
Consider the source. “If the chocolate maker doesn’t have control over when it was harvested, we need to ask the farmer, ‘How long has it been in your warehouse,’” Vivar says. “‘How long has it been since you harvested it until it became a chocolate bar?’ That is one of those things you don’t think about.”
Choose chocolate with minimal processing. “The core part of our business is how the chocolate has been made, who’s been making it, the fermentation, the cacao itself and the genetics. The more ingredients involved, the more you damage the chocolate. The key is to preserve the natural flavor profile and present it as natural as possible.”
Consider chocolate percentage. “Have an understanding of percentage of chocolate, the content of cacao,” Vivar explains. “The less ingredients in the bar, the better food you’re putting in your body. The dark chocolate, in moderate amounts, should be something you can eat every single day.” For more information on Pacari, visit www.pacarichocolates.com.
Raw, vegan, kosher...you name it. Founder and owner of Gnosis Chocolate, Vanessa Barg, takes the health benefits of chocolate to the next level. Using cacao beans from Indonesia, South America and Africa, USDA organic Gnosis is one of the few chocolate companies to produce raw-only chocolates with low-glycemic sweeteners, nutrient-dense super foods and medicinal herbs.
Start with the ingredients list and certifications. “If you only see things you have in your cabinet, that is really the bar to start off with,” Barg says. “Certifications are important, but they are not the endall. Some family farms can’t afford to get certified but, by default, are following fair trade and organic standards.”
Darker chocolate isn’t always healthier. “Yes, it’s true, dark chocolate will have more properties of cacao than a lighter bar, but you can have a 70% dark bar with less antioxidants than a 55% bar because of the quality of cacao,” Barg explains. “The variety and the processing greatly affect the quality of bean.”
Read the company’s ethos (mission or guiding beliefs). “If all they talk about is flavor and only one sentence is about the company’s mission, then you know where they put their money,” Barg says. More information can be found at www.gnosischocolate. com.
Based in New York’s Hudson Valley, Oliver Kita specializes in French organic and Swiss crafted chocolates, from vegan organic chocolate bars to artisan truffles. Kita knows a thing or two about quality European chocolate.
What’s in it? American-made products tend to add milk ingredients with preservatives. “That is what happens when chocolate makers are bought out,” Kita says. “That’s why people need to start doing more homework and look into what they’re buying.”
Reputation matters. “There’s no easy rule. Become more aware and investigate who is making the chocolate.”
Consider the shelf life. “Artisan chocolatiers who produce fresh chocolate with a seven to eight–week shelf life cannot expand their businesses into a national market without changing their recipes and formulas, which makes them no longer fresh,” Kita says on his website (www.oliverkita.com). “The challenge is that for chocolatiers to expand, they need shelf-stable recipes; this means using more sugar and sugar additives to prolong the shelf life.” Whether raw or roasted, the benefits of chocolate rely heavily on the quality and the ingredients mixed in to create a final product.
Pacari and other high quality chocolates can be found at Cocova in DuPont Circle/Adams Morgan of Washington, D.C. Owner and chocolatier Robert Cabeca encourages customers to look at the percentage of cocoa (75% and above is best) first. “The fewer ingredients the better,” Cabeca says.
Rebekah Pizana is a professional food writer, pastry chef and licensed business owner. Her pastry work through Gourmet Amore has been published in Brides Maryland and Brides Washington, D.C., and by the online magazine, StyleMePretty.com