Chocolate is made from cacao seeds that have been fermented, roasted, shelled and ground up, often combined with a flavoring agent or sweetener. Most of the chocolate consumed today is sweet, a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or another type of fat and sugar. While chocolate may offer some health benefits, it is high in fat and sugar and should be enjoyed in moderation.Processing
Processing the cocoa seeds yields a liquefied cocoa mass, and, prior to sweetening, this product is called chocolate liquor, which has nothing to do with alcohol. The liquor often is processed into two components: cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Unsweetened chocolate, or bitter chocolate, is made from pure chocolate liquor. It has a deep, strong chocolate flavor and forms the base for other products. Bitter chocolate, or unsweetened baking chocolate, consists of cocoa butter and cocoa solids in varying proportions. Bittersweet chocolate is made from adding sugar, more cocoa butter, vanilla and, sometimes, lecithin to chocolate liquor. It must contain at least 35 percent cocoa solids. According to Cocoa Web, better-quality bittersweet chocolate may contain 60 to 85 percent cocoa solids. Both types may be used in baking, though some individuals enjoy eating bittersweet chocolate plain.Bitter and Bittersweet
Bitter chocolate, or unsweetened baking chocolate, consists of cocoa butter and cocoa solids in varying proportions. Bittersweet chocolate is made from adding sugar, more cocoa butter, vanilla and, sometimes, lecithin to chocolate liquor. It must contain at least 35 percent cocoa solids. According to Cocoa Web, better-quality bittersweet chocolate may contain 60 to 85 percent cocoa solids. Both types may be used in baking, though some individuals enjoy eating bittersweet chocolate plain.
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According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, sweet chocolate must contain a 15 percent concentration of chocolate liquor. Dark chocolate is produced by adding sugar and fat to the cacao mixture. Semisweet chocolate is low-sugar dark chocolate, often used for cooking and commercial baking. It contains 40 to 62 percent cocoa solids. Milk chocolate contains condensed milk or milk powder and is used for eating. White chocolate is free of cocoa solids, but contains cocoa butter, milk and sugar and is sometimes used for desserts, such as panna cotta
Powder and Benefits
Unsweetened cocoa powder is used for baking, and for drinking with added sugar and milk. It is made from finely ground cocoa beans, without the shell, after the cocoa butter has been extracted. Natural cocoa powder is not chemically treated. Alkalized cocoa powder is treated with an alkaline substance to darken the color and reduce acidity. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, natural cocoa contains the highest capacity of an antioxidant known as procyanidin. Antioxidants may be beneficial in helping to prevent stroke, cancer and heart disease.
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Other Health Benefits
Cocoa solids contain substances known as alkaloids, which may have physiological effects on the body. These substances increase serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical that regulates sleep, mood, appetite and other important functions. In addition, some research, including a study published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" in July 2007, found that including small amounts of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate as part of a regular diet decreases blood pressure. The antioxidants in cocoa, known as flavonoids, seem to prevent cellular inflammation and damage.
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By Michele Turcotte
- FDA: Standard of Identity for Sweet Chocolate
- Cocoa Web: Types of Chocolate
- U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service: In Chocolate, More Cocoa Means Higher Antioxidant Capacity
- "Journal of the American Medical Association": Effects of Low Habitual Cocoa Intake on Blood Pressure and Bioactive Nitric Oxide