Valentine’s Day! Chocolate 101

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Here’s a brief look at where chocolate comes from, nutritional information, how it’s made, and the ingredients that make chocolate—whether milk, dark, or white—a memorable treat.

Cocoa Seeds, Not Beans
Cocoa comes from the cocoa plant, grown in the remote areas of West Africa, Asia, and South America. While often called cocoa beans, cocoa plants actually are large, brightly colored pods filled with many seeds.

Cocoa to Chocolate
Cocoa seeds are removed from the pod, dried, and roasted, giving them a distinct dark color and unique flavor. After roasting, cocoa seeds are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. The liquor separates into dry cocoa and cocoa butter, or fat.

Chocolate Ingredients
Cocoa is heated and combined with other ingredients, such as sugar and milk, to create chocolate bars and candy. Dark chocolate is at least 35 percent cocoa liquor; and milk chocolate, 10 percent. White chocolate has cocoa butter, but no chocolate liquor. Chocolate contains protein, magnesium, and flavanols (antioxidants). Dark chocolate has caffeine; white chocolate does not. Dairy-based chocolate provides calcium.

Chocolate Safety
The roasting process kills bacteria on the cocoa seeds. Because of the high fat and low moisture content, chocolate generally does not spoil. A white coating, called “chocolate bloom,” may appear on the surface of a chocolate bar. This is either the cocoa butter or sugar rising to the top of the chocolate, often due to high temperatures or sun. The presence of chocolate bloom does not mean that the chocolate is unsafe to eat.

Chocolate for Heath
Antioxidants, like the flavanols found in chocolate, may boost the body’s immune system. There is still a lot more research that needs to be done, but exciting emerging research shows that chocolate may be good for both cardiovascular health and even memory. The sweetness in chocolate certainly makes it taste good, but chocolate should always be consumed in moderation due to sugar and fat content.