By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at SparkPeople
Some refer to it as food for the gods, others like me, call it a saving grace! Why do we love chocolate so much? Is it the taste, memories, or an experience for the mouth?
As you eat chocolate, it hits so many of the senses. As it melts, it covers your tongue and its smells enter into your nasal cavity. Soon your olfactory receptors and taste buds are all screaming in happiness. For me, that moment has a calming effect on the brain and body. Although I crave that feeling, I am not willing to buy larger jeans, so I choose chocolate that's strong and rich. That way, you don't need much, just a taste.
But...that chocolate has to be full of flavor, so don't give me that waxy variety from the supermarket. I want the real stuff: Dark chocolate with at least 60% cacao. Even better, the real stuff is actually good for us.
The experts at SparkPeople agree: "Studies have found that dark chocolate helps prevent heart disease and cancer, and has also been shown to improve mood by boosting the brain chemical serotonin. Some even consider chocolate an effective diet food, claiming that a chunk of chocolate before meals diminishes your appetite."
What makes up the chocolate we eat? It is not just the bean. Chocolate, in its most basic form, contains cocoa bean solids and cocoa butter. Sugar, milk, and other ingredients can also be added. Depending on the variety, the ratios of the ingredients can vary.
Dark chocolate contains less cocoa butter and more cocoa solids.
Milk chocolate contains more cocoa butter and less cocoa solids than dark chocolate.
White chocolate contains no cocoa solids, just cocoa butter.
I bypass the milk and white varieties for deep, dark chocolate when I want a sweet treat, but there's another kind of chocolate that has a place in my kitchen: Unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder, which do not contain sugar. (Warning! Don't bite into a bittersweet block of chocolate. Your mouth will not be happy.) Instead of eating these straight-up, I use them in savory dishes.
I love to use unsweetened cocoa powder in rubs for pork. Try this one tonight!
Chef Meg's Cocoa-Coffee-Porcini Rub
Use this rub on pork roasts or tenderloins. It gives the meat an earthy flavor and beautiful brown color.
- 2 ounces porcini mushrooms, dried
- 1/4 cup espresso powder
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder Combine all in a coffee grinder.
Other tips on cooking with chocolate.
- When melting chocolate , chop it into small chunks using a serrated knife.
- Chocolate will melt at about 98 degrees, so there is no need to blast it with heat. When melting chocolate, use a double boiler method. Place 1-2 inches on water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Place chopped chocolate into a metal bowl that is larger than the saucepan. Place the bowl over the simmering water and stir the chocolate until it has barely melted (it will continue to melt after you pull it off the heat). Microwaves work well too but make sure you use only 50% power and short 30 second cooking times, checking the chocolate often.
- Water is not a friend of chocolate. If a small amount of water comes into contact with chocolate during the melting process, it will seize. The mixture will almost look grainy and dull in color.
Chocolate doesn't have to be sinful. Learn all about the good, the bad, and the delicious aspects of chocolate in this article.
SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.