Falling in Love with Dark Chocolate

By Katie Schaffer, Nutrition & Culinary Intern, Slow Food Denver

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With Valentine’s Day right around the corner I, like everyone else, will frantically head to the nearest grocery store, pick out the most elaborate looking heart-shaped box of chocolates, and leisurely sign a card that says how much I love you. Valentine’s Day is notoriously known for the last-minute bouquet of red roses, and the boxes of chocolate that will sit on our countertops for months until they go rancid or get thrown out. We feel guilty wasting chocolate and we feel guilty eating chocolate. But guilt shouldn’t arise from indulging in that luxurious chocolate bar, but rather from mindlessly consuming chocolate packed with unruly amounts of sugar. Consuming cacao-rich chocolate can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and provide a potent source of antioxidants. And who would know better than Colorado’s master chocolatiers?

Dark Chocolate as Functional Medicine

Throughout history, dark chocolate has been used as functional medicine by medical practitioners world-wide. Even in the early discovery of chocolate, doctors understood that it had some unseen characteristics that aided in the cure of ailments. In more recent years, doctors, researchers, and scientists alike have rediscovered the powerful health effects of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is packed full of organic compounds such as polyphenols and flavanols that act as antioxidants that aid in reducing free radicals which, when not properly regulated, cause oxidative stress. This unfamiliar term can be quite discouraging, but it simply means that it causes damage to our body’s lipids, proteins, and DNA which can cause a variety of diseases. The abundance of antioxidants in dark chocolate can help regulate oxidative stress and protect our body’s cells from further damage.

A research study published in BMC Chemistry Journal, found that cacao-rich chocolate can have higher flavanol concentration than commonly known super foods such as blueberries. Flavanols have also been associated with decreasing blood pressure and having anti-inflammatory properties. According to a review article found in the journal of Frontiers in Immunology, the flavanols found in dark chocolate promote high amounts of vasodilation leading to improved blood pressure within individuals; these results were especially significant in individuals who were at risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. The same review article found that flavanol-rich chocolate can also help regulate the body’s LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol ratio. Meaning, it decreased the “bad” cholesterol and increased the “good” cholesterol which helped reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

This indulgent and luscious godsend can aid in reducing the risk of developing heart disease.  Who knew that chocolate had such powerful capabilities to improve health? The velvety, rich texture from chocolate is a cardioprotective warrior that fights off high blood pressure and free radicals. Every mouth-watering bite is a cheers to good health.

Opting for Locally Made Dark Chocolate

Regardless of the type of chocolate, we still need to keep in mind that choosing locally made chocolate supports a food-sustainable, rich environment. Opting for local chocolate cultivates the enjoyment of Denver’s food economy and creates a nourishing community centered towards food sustainability. By opting for local chocolate, we help support Denver’s chocolatiers and indirectly help Denver shift towards a more just and sustainable food system whilst stimulating its economy.

But how and where do we find local chocolate? Do not be afraid! Here are a few local chocolateries whipping up some of the most decadent chocolate concoctions around town:

1. The Chocolate Therapist:

“Author Julie Pech launched The Chocolate Therapist to introduce the extraordinary, all-natural chocolate that supports the research in her book: The Chocolate Therapist: A User’s Guide to the Extraordinary Health Benefits of Chocolate. In it, you’ll discover how to enjoy a little chocolate every day, for the benefit of health, without gaining weight.”

2. Miette et Chocolat

“Renowned pastry chefs and chocolatiers Gonzalo Jimenez and David Lewis present their latest endeavor – Miette et Chocolat. A French patisserie with a modern twist, serving everything from traditional bon bons to unique candy bars.”

3. Nuance

“Nuance Chocolate makes chocolate. Authentic, honest, spirited chocolate. We start by selecting premium cacao beans from ethical sources around the globe, which we gently roast in small batches to develop depth and range. Then we grind them for as many as three consecutive days, creating the ideal balance of flavors, aromas, and textures. Finally, we form the chocolate into a range of delicious treats, ranging from single-origin bars to rich truffles.”

4. Fortuna Chocolate

“All of the chocolate that the team currently produces comes from a 26’ chocolate factory on wheels.  Once a mobile library, the large truck has been outfitted by the team to produce chocolate for local restaurants and special collaborations.  The 6’ wooden deck that folds down once the machines turn off and the huge service window opens, is meant to encourage conversational lingering and to provide the opportunity for eye level hospitality. 

5. The Chocolate Lab

“Chocolate Lab is Denver’s only chocolate centric restaurant, craft cocktail bar and chocolate shop.  Serving lunch, dinner and desserts seven days a week, where chocolate plays a starring role in nearly every dish.  Our small batch hand-crafted truffles, toffee and other decadent treats are also available in store.”

Take a drive to your local chocolate shop and experience the joy (and the benefits) of locally made, lusciously-rich dark chocolate! It might just be worth it.

Resources:

Cozier SJ, Preston AG, Hurst JW. Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. BMC Chemistry. 2011;5(5). https://doi.org/10.1186/1752-153X-5-5

Lobo V, Patil A, Phatak A, et al. Free radicals, antioxidants, and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010; 4(8): 118–126. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.70902.

Magrone T, Russo MA, Jirillo E. Coco and Dark Chocolate Polyphenols: From Biology to Clinical Applications. Frontiers in Immunology. 2017. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2017.00677

Zeiba K, Makarewicz-Wujec M, Kozlowska-Wojciechowska M. Cardioprotective Mechanisms of Cocoa. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2019; 8:1-12. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2018.1557087

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