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The health benefits of dark chocolate are all the rage right now, with increasing numbers of studies pointing to its rich concentrations of beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols.
This applies particularly to dark chocolate because it contains a higher concentration of cacao seeds than milk chocolate, and therein lies the secret to its health-promoting powers.
Cacao refers to the plant, a small evergreen tree of the species Theobroma cacao, which is cultivated for its seeds, also known as cacao beans or cocoa beans. The term "chocolate" refers to the solid food or candy made from a preparation of cacao seeds (typically roasted). If the cacao seeds are not roasted, then you have "raw chocolate," which is also typically sweetened.
Cocoa, on the other hand, refers to the powder made from roasted, husked, and ground cacao seeds, from which most of the fat has been removed. Knowing the meaning of these terms is important, because if you think you're improving your health by eating typical chocolate candies, you're being misled.
That being said, however, certain types of chocolate, as well as cocoa powder and cacao, are turning out to be powerful superfoods that rank right up there among the most anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods known to mankind.
Your Gut Bacteria Help Unlock Dark Chocolate's Anti-Inflammatory Powers
Research presented at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) claims to have unraveled the precise reason why dark chocolate is so beneficial. While it's known that cocoa powder is rich in antioxidants including catechin and epicatechin, along with a small amount of fiber, it was thought that these molecules were poorly digested and absorbed due to their large size.
The new study found, however, that your gut bacteria breaks down and ferments the components in dark chocolate, turning them into anti-inflammatory compounds that benefit your health. In particular, beneficial microbes including Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria "feasted" on chocolate, according to the researchers.
The study, which involved three cocoa powders tested in a model digestive tract, may help explain why chocolate has been found to be so good for your heart, as the anti-inflammatory compounds may reduce inflammation of cardiovascular tissue. The study's lead author explained:1
"In our study we found that the fiber is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolized to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed. These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity… When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke."
Eating Your Dark Chocolate with Prebiotics May Boost Its Benefits
The researchers suggested that consuming cocoa along with prebiotics may be one way to encourage the conversion of polyphenols into highly absorbable anti-inflammatory compounds in your stomach. Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in whole foods that you can't digest… but which beneficial bacteria can, acting as "food" for them.
Unprocessed whole foods, such as onions and garlic, are among the best prebiotics, so if you're eating right, you should be getting plenty of prebiotics. It would seem that taking steps to encourage healthful gut bacteria, in general, would also ensure that you have enough beneficial bacteria available to help break down and ferment the healthy substances in cocoa.
This includes not only avoiding sugar and grains but also eating naturally fermented foods and/or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement. One of the major results of eating a healthy diet like the one described in my nutrition plan is that you cause your beneficial gut bacteria to flourish, and they secondarily perform the real "magic" of restoring your health. Interestingly, the researchers also suggested consuming dark chocolate with antioxidant-rich solid fruits, such as pomegranate or acai, as another way to boost its health potential.
Chocolate and Your Heart: What Does the Research Say?
A seven-study meta-analysis sought to find a link between chocolate consumption and certain cardiometabolic disorders, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Along with those disorders are related problems like hypertension, elevated fasting glucose and triglycerides, high cholesterol, and abdominal obesity.2
But rather than negative effects, scientists found that chocolate – specifically the dark unprocessed raw cacao kinds – actually reduced the risk of such disorders.
In fact, the highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 29 percent reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels! Other research has also shown that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in chocolate may lower your risk of heart attack and stroke considerably.
Small amounts of dark chocolate can cut your risk of heart attack because, like aspirin, chocolate has a biochemical effect that reduces the clumping of platelets, which cause blood to clot.3 Platelet clumping can be fatal if a clot forms and blocks a blood vessel, causing a heart attack.
Specially formulated raw cocoa powder has the potential to prevent cardiovascular disease in diabetics. When diabetic patients were given a special high-flavonol cocoa drink for one month, it brought their blood vessel function from severely impaired to normal. The improvement was actually as large as has been observed with exercise and many common diabetic medications.4
Researchers also discovered that a compound in dark chocolate, called epicatechin (a flavonoid), may protect your brain after a stroke by increasing cellular signals that shield nerve cells from damage.5 A stroke is similar to a heart attack, but occurs when the blood supply to your brain becomes blocked or reduced, as opposed to blocking the blood supply to your heart.
Another one of the ways chocolate may provide cardiovascular benefit is by assisting with nitric oxide metabolism, as described by Ori Hofmekler.6 Nitric oxide protects your heart by relaxing your blood vessels and thereby lowering your blood pressure.
However, nitric oxide production produces adverse reactions and toxic metabolites, which must be neutralized by your body so they don't result in oxidative damage to your blood vessel lining (by peroxynitrite oxidation and nitration reactions). Cocoa polyphenols protect your body from these metabolites and help counter the typical age-related decline in nitric oxide production.7
Will Taking Chocolate Pills Improve Heart Health?
The promise of chocolate to improve heart health is so strong that a three-year study on that very topic was just launched by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in partnership with (who else but) candy maker Mars, Inc. The study will involve cocoa flavanols taken in pill form… not the more popular chocolate-bar form. It will be the first large study of its kind (involving 18,000 people) to look into the potential role of cocoa flavanols in high-dose form, without the added sugar and fat of chocolate.
As the AP reported:
"The candy company [Mars] has patented a way to extract flavanols from cocoa in high concentration and put them in capsules. Mars and some other companies sell cocoa extract capsules, but with less active ingredient than those that will be tested in the study; candy contains even less."
Chocolate Is Linked to 40+ Health Benefits
In case you were wondering, it's not only your heart that might benefit from the compounds in cacao and cocoa powder. A wide range of accumulating scientific research has linked its consumption to over 40 distinct health benefits.
While most of you have heard about the importance of antioxidants, a primer might help, beginning with the explanation that the formation of free radicals in your cells can damage your DNA to the point that your risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer's, heart disease, and cancer are elevated.
This is why the antioxidant polyphenols in chocolate are so valuable, as they have the ability to stop free radical-mediated oxidation. This helps to decrease your risk of those and other diseases by directly interfering with one of the major preventable causes of chronic degenerative diseases.
Chocolate also contains other potent plant "chemicals," including anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word for "bliss," which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and anxiety. The caffeine and theobromine in chocolate have been shown to produce higher levels of physical energy and mental alertness, and there are likely many more healthy chocolate compounds that have yet to be discovered.
The following table highlights just some of the benefits conferred by the cocoa bean.
Anti-thrombotic, including improving endothelial function
Lowers Alzheimer's risk
Anti-diabetic and anti-obesity
Reduction in C-reactive protein
Cardioprotective, including lowering blood pressure, improving lipid profile, and helping prevent atrial fibrillation
Chocolate is nature’s way of making up for Mondays.
11 Chocolate Myths by Mother Nature Network
The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods,” and it does seem that the fruit of the tree and its delicious derivatives are indeed fit for the deities.
Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical and divine attributes, appropriate for service in even the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. By the 17th century, chocolate in drinking form was a fashionable quaff for the European elite, who believed it to have nutritious, medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. It’s been said that Casanova was especially enamored by its charms.
And the love affair has yet to wane. Chocolate manufacturing is a more than $4 billion industry in the United States alone, and the average American eats at least half a pound of the confectionery every month.
But chocolate is a funny thing. In recent years it has become the darling of nutritionists as health benefit after health benefit has been revealed — most notably that it lowers the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Yet, it’s long been the character actor bad guy in any number of scenarios, including acne, weight gain and high cholesterol.
But is chocolate’s bad reputation warranted? Should we embrace it as a miracle food, or shun it as a deleterious delight? Here's the dope on chocolate's most notorious myths.
1. Chocolate raises bad cholesterol If you’ve given up chocolate in the name of lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, you may have been unwittingly sacrificing the sweet treat for nothing. Quelle tragique! While it’s true that chocolate contains cocoa butter, which is high in saturated fat, much of the fat comes from stearic acid, which doesn’t act like saturated fat. Studies have shown that chocolate does not raise bad cholesterol, and in fact for some people, chocolate can lower cholesterol levels.
2. Chocolate is high in caffeine
Contrary to popular belief, chocolate is not loaded with the jitter-inducing compound known as caffeine. A Hershey’s chocolate bar contains 9 milligrams of caffeine and a Hershey’s Special Dark bar contains 31 milligrams, as compared to the 320 milligrams found in a Starbuck’s grande brewed coffee. Darker varieties are higher in caffeine, it’s true, but not as high as many people think.
3. The sugar in chocolate causes hyperactivity
Excessive sugar causes kids to jump off the walls, bounce off the ceiling, and generally mimic a rogue helicopter, right? So we thought. But more than a dozen good-quality studies have failed to find any link between sugar in children's diets and hyperactive behavior. Two theories: It’s the environment that creates the excitability (birthday parties, holidays, etc) and/or that the connection is simply in the minds of the parents expecting hyper behavior following sugar-fueled revelries.
4. People with diabetes have to give up chocolate
Chocolate does not need to be completely avoided by people with diabetes. In fact, many are often surprised to learn that chocolate has a low glycemic index. Recent studies suggest that dark chocolate may actually improve insulin sensitivity in people with normal and high blood pressure and improve endothelial dysfunction in people with diabetes. Of course, always check with your doctor before ripping open the candy wrapper.
5. Chocolate causes tooth decay and cavities
A study investigating the development of plaque from chocolate found that chocolate has less of an effect on dental plaque than pure table sugar. Of course, most of us aren’t snacking on straight sugar, but another study backed it up when it showed no association between eating chocolate and getting cavities. In fact, a study from Osaka University in Japan found that parts of the cocoa bean, the main ingredient of chocolate, thwart mouth bacteria and tooth decay. Fighting cavities never tasted so good.
6. Chocolate makes you gain weight
Of course it does. Well, not necessarily. Obviously, monumental hot fudge sundaes aren’t going to do your waistline any favors, but a large study funded by the National Institutes of Health found this: Consuming a small amount of chocolate each of five days during a week was linked to a lower BMI, even if the person ate more calories overall and didn't exercise more than other participants. Hello, chocolate diet.
7. Eating sugar and chocolate can add to stress
A study found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed.
8. Chocolate lacks nutritional value
If you’ve seen any of the deluge of scientific studies touting the health benefits of chocolate, you know this is not true. But just how nutritious is chocolate? It has bona fide superfood status. A typical dark chocolate bar contains as much antioxidant capacity as 2 3/4 cups of green tea, 1 glass of red wine, or 2/3 cup of blueberries. In addition, chocolate also contains minerals and dietary fiber.
9. Chocolate must contain at least 70 percent cacao to be good for you
The general recommendation is to consume dark chocolate with a minimum of 70 percent cacao to reap the health benefits; in general, the darker the chocolate, the higher the antioxidant content. However, in one 18-week study, participants who ate a small amount of 50 percent cacao chocolate experienced a significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. As well, another study showed short-term improvements in blood flow and blood pressure after consumption of a 60 percent cacao dark chocolate.
10. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac
The Aztecs may have been the first to believe in the connection between chocolate and amorous feelings — Montezuma is said to have consumed large amounts to enhance his romantic forays, and Casanova imbibed pre-seduction as well. But numerous studies have yet to find conclusive evidence that chocolate physically gets the fires burning. That said, chocolate is sensual to eat, lowers stress, and may have aphrodisiac qualities that are psychological in origin.
11. Chocolate causes acne
Although any teen will tell you that chocolate causes acne, studies going as far back as the 1960s have failed to show any relationship between chocolate consumption and acne. An extensive review in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “diet plays no role in acne treatment in most patients … even large amounts of chocolate have not clinically exacerbated acne.”
The moral of the story is: Eat chocolate! Alas, eat it in moderation. An average 3-ounce bar of milk chocolate has 420 calories and 26 grams of fat, almost as much as a Big Mac — and that's a fact.
After a bar of chocolate one can forgive anybody, even one’s relatives.
Again thanks to Stephanie Zonis for this article 'The truth about "RAW" Chocolate'
Raw chocolate can also be sweetened with dried dates or coconut palm sugar. Are these raw? Coconut palm sugar is not, according to an article at NaturalNews.com (http://www.naturalnews.com/028996_palm_sugar_natural_sweetener.html; incidentally, the author of this article asserts that agave nectar is not raw). Surely dried dates must be raw, then? Not necessarily. Some are, but some are sulphured or even soaked in sugar syrup. I’ve found a “raw” chocolate sweetened with maple syrup, a substance very far from being raw. This particular chocolate maker uses maple syrup for a number of reasons; among them are the syrup’s “superior flavor”, environmental sustainability, vegan-friendly nature, low glycemic index score, and their belief that it’s “nutrient-rich”. At least one “raw” chocolate is sweetened with rapadura, an unbleached and unrefined form of cane sugar. However, rapadura is not a raw product by any stretch of the imagination. Jordan Schuster, the manufacturer of this chocolate, has this to say about his choice of sweetener: “…we don’t consider rapadura to be a raw sugar. Our stated objective is to present raw cacao in the best, most delicious, most conscientious way possible. I use rapadura because it’s the least refined dry sugar on the market with the lowest sucrose content per gram…” I respect the beliefs of these manufacturers. And what they’re doing is perfectly within the letter of the law, given the lack of legal definitions and certification for raw foods in general. You must decide if it’s acceptable that “raw” chocolate may not contain all-raw ingredients.
Let’s say you’ve done everything necessary. Say you’ve found low-temperature-fermented beans, unroasted, kept under 118 degrees F during all processing. You’ve found a raw sweetener that works for you. You’ve even found raw additional ingredients (Goji berries, coconut, etc.—always popular in chocolate products). You’ve got real raw chocolate, in whatever form you please (bar, truffle, etc.). My next question is this: why are you eating it? I don’t mean that in an accusatory way; I’m asking a question. If you tell me that you’re eating it because you love the way it tastes and it makes you happy, I will tell you to go in peace and enjoy your raw chocolate, and may it bring a smile to your lips and a song to your heart. However, if you inform me that you’re eating raw chocolate because it’s healthy for you, I’m going to have to take you out back to the (virtual) woodshed.
I’ll start my explanation by saying that raw cacao powder, like cocoa powder made from roasted beans, does indeed contain a significant amount of some nutrients, if you consume enough of it. Both have a bit of protein and are a source of iron. You’ll also find other minerals present, such as zinc, copper, manganese, and phosphorus, along with more dietary fiber than you might expect. Www.Sunfood.com has a letter from David Wolfe, a big raw chocolate proponent, announcing that raw cocoa powder is “the richest food source of magnesium of any common food”. And then, of course, there are the antioxidants. A food’s antioxidants, you may know, are measured by its ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score. Conventionally-produced cocoa powder (made from roasted beans) has an ORAC score in the 80,000 to 82,000 range per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), according to the USDA (http://www.ars.usda.gov/sp2userfiles/place/12354500/data/orac/orac07.pdf). Raw cocoa powder is not listed in the USDA table I found (which dates from late 2007). According to Mr. Wolfe, though, raw cocoa powder has an even more impressive ORAC score of 955 units per gram, or 95,500 units per 100 grams. Recognize that there are many different types of antioxidants, and not all are found in any one food. Then ask yourself this: how many antioxidant units do you require for optimum health in one day? Of what variety should they be? If you don’t know the answer to either question, that’s good, because you shouldn’t. Nobody does. Nobody knows anywhere near enough about antioxidants yet to be able to determine daily needs, or whether different antioxidants work on different parts of the body. And, as is the case with vitamins and minerals, more is not always better. Is consuming antioxidants in excess of the amount you need harmful? Once again, no one really knows. Now, according to a tin of cocoa I have, one tablespoon of conventional, unsweetened cocoa powder weighs about 5 grams. (One tablespoon is the amount I use to make a cup of hot cocoa.) You can’t eat twenty tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder (to make up 100 grams) within any reasonable length of time. By contrast, it’s entirely possible to eat 100 grams/3.5 ounces of, say, raw blackberries or raw blueberries at one sitting. Doing so provides more overall nutrition, far fewer calories, much less fat, one serving of your daily produce, and between 5200 and 6500 ORAC units of antioxidants, respectively, or slightly more than you’d get from that one tablespoon of raw cocoa powder. And there’s never a question as to whether those berries are really raw.
What’s more, there is NOTHING magical about 118 degrees Fahrenheit, nor about 104 degrees F, nor about any temperature within that range. If you don’t understand the temperature guidelines in the raw food movement, they exist because of enzymes. Supposedly, raw food is healthier for you because it’s “living” food, containing active enzymes. Enzymes, which are composed of proteins, are essential to the regulation of metabolic activity. Raw fooders believe that heating foods above their chosen temperature denatures the enzymes and that the food is then “dead”. I don’t propose to start a conversation on the logic of such a diet here, but some interesting facts about enzymes are brought up in this article: www.ecologos.org/denature.htm. Incidentally, Ms. Madell has also heard that raw food is “living”, but pronounces this claim “nonsense in relation to chocolate”, adding, “By the time they end up in a chocolate bar, cocoa beans (whether raw or not) are categorically dead.”
It is true that heating enzymes beyond a certain temperature will denature them, stopping their activity. There is an article about temperature and enzymes here: http://www.rawfoods.com/marketplace/excaliburstatement.html. The letter is from the manufacturer of a dehydrator and includes this passage: “…we spoke with Dr. John Whitaker who is a world recognized enzymologist, and former dean of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at U.C. Davis. He said that every enzyme is different and some are more stable at higher temperatures than others but that most enzymes will not become completely inactive until food temperatures exceed 140 to 158 F in a wet state.” Bear in mind that Rawfoods.com is a pro-raw food diet website. The site’s FAQ page proclaims that “In general, the act of heating food over 116 degrees F destroys enzymes in food.” Yet the letter from Excalibur refutes that statement. If you’re confused right about now, that makes two of us. Further, that same website declares, “…cooking a food changes the molecular structure of the food and renders it toxic”. I challenge anyone reading this to present me with even one large-scale, long-term study, scientifically carried out by a reputable research group or organization, conclusively demonstrating the toxicity of food heated above 116 degrees F.
I quoted Clay Gordon earlier in this article talking about lower-temperature bean fermentation. He asserted that, while possible, it would take more time and more care, and therefore would cost more. That will hold true for all aspects of raw chocolate manufacture. It will cost more to ferment the beans, just as lower-temperature drying, conching, etc. will take longer (and hence cost more) than their conventional counterparts. Refined sugar is relatively cheap, but it isn’t used in raw chocolate, and the other sweeteners will likely be more expensive, as will additional ingredients. In a nutshell, raw chocolate is going to be pricey. I believe that some of this is because of the perception surrounding it. Think about organic food for a minute here. Yes, organic food does cost more to produce, but given the belief that it’s better for you, some sellers will charge more for it than costs would justify, and many consumers will continue to buy it because of a belief that it’s more nutritious and/or healthier for you. In my opinion, the same thing is happening with raw chocolate. Who doesn’t want to believe that the chocolate they love to eat is “healthy”, or at least better for you than a supermarket chocolate bar?
One more thing to think about, and that’s the source of “raw” chocolate and cocoa powder. I’ve mentioned Tom Pedersen, head honcho of Cocoa Puro, in this article. His business is heavily dependent upon cacao beans. He’s done his research, and he’s quite knowledgeable. The regions where most cacao bean processing is done are not wealthy, and in-depth technical knowledge of bean processing can be hard to find. Tom points out that “…much of the cacao industry, particularly (in these countries) isn’t set up to handle the finicky nature of raw food requirements. You’re lucky to get well-fermented beans at all, much less fermented and dried within a specific low temperature range.”
I wrote this article because I’m tired of the hyperbole and the exaggerated claims surrounding “raw” chocolate and “raw” cocoa powder. I’m weary of the insistence that a raw food diet is capable of miracles, like preventing the aging process. Nobody doubts that eating lots of raw or lightly cooked fruits and vegetables is a good idea, but chocolate and cocoa (raw or otherwise) are still dietary luxury items. And the concept that your food will be valueless or even toxic if it’s heated beyond 104 degrees or 116 degrees or 118 degrees is, frankly, fertilizer. I know that people are angry at the way large corporations produce and distribute our food. People are frightened and they feel powerless. With so many food recalls in recent years, and negative reports emerging frequently regarding what’s in the food we’ve eaten for years, it’s hard to blame anyone for that. But if the stereotypical American diet of overprocessed, high-sodium, high-fat, high-protein, high-sugar foods is one extreme, a raw food diet is simply the pendulum swinging to another extreme. Is that an improvement? I don’t think it is.
I’ve come down pretty hard on raw chocolate producers here. I’ve communicated with a number of people involved in the production of raw chocolate for this article, all of whom were unstinting with their time and had no way of knowing whether I was going to praise or condemn what they make. The great majority of raw chocolate makers and raw chocolatiers are like the rest of us—they’re just trying to find a niche and scratch out a living for themselves. Those I’ve spoken to seem convinced that they’re doing something good for people, and they’re all hard-working folks. But if you take away nothing else from this article, understand that your “raw” chocolate is dependent entirely upon trusting someone else’s word that it’s genuinely raw. In turn, that someone else must depend upon their suppliers’ word that the products the supplier furnishes are really raw. Raw cacao beans, raw cocoa powder, and raw cocoa butter require exacting conditions and techniques. But these products are not grown/processed in the US, where such conditions and techniques can be met or acquired without excessive difficulty; they’re grown/processed in Third World countries. In a time when suppliers will be anxious to bring more and more “raw” cocoa products to market due to increasing demand, will those exacting conditions and techniques still be met and applied constantly and continuously? I don’t know.
Does this mean there’s no real “raw” chocolate? The most interesting opinion I heard about this was from Daren Hayes (www.stirsthesoul.com), a small-scale raw bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer. Hayes has made some of his own equipment and modified machines he’s bought. Stirs the Soul offers people a choice of three sweeteners. They grind their own beans and are in the process of acquiring equipment to do their own cocoa butter processing. When the 2009 Essential Living Foods story about “raw” cocoa products not really being raw broke, Stirs the Soul refused to sell bars made with that cocoa butter as raw, sustaining a heavy financial loss. So Mr. Hayes speaks about this subject with some authority, as far as I’m concerned. His way of looking at raw chocolate is that all bets are off—when it comes to industrial-scale production. He believes that raw chocolate production lends itself primarily to small business. My own belief is that there may indeed be some small businesses doing raw chocolate right. However, given the lack of legal definition and certification, there are no guarantees; those who eat these products must purchase and consume them on faith. Because of that, because of the health hype, and, last but not least, because I’ve never found any raw chocolate product I really enjoy, I have no recommendations for you. If you like the idea of supporting raw chocolate producers, ask a lot of questions before you buy, and keep trying products new to you. As usual, if you find something you love, e-mail me, and I’ll check it out. If you can intelligently refute anything I’ve written here, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Finally, I call upon the raw chocolate industry to set some standards for themselves. At the very least, this means getting a third-party certification system in place, though a legal definition might be required first. If nothing else, standards might reduce some of the confusion out there. And in this Age of Too Much Information, anything that can be done to lessen bewilderment can only help consumers in the long run.
There isn’t any. Let the angry e-mails commence! I don’t mean that there isn’t any chocolate that’s truly raw (although that may be the case, too); I mean that hard and fast truths about such a product are very difficult to come by. There’s almost as much misinformation about this subject as there has been about JFK’s assassination, and considering the brief length of time that “raw” chocolate has been around by comparison, that’s really saying something.
First things first: at this writing, there are no legal standards for “raw” products, period. There is no independent, third party certification for “raw” products, period. There is no agreement, even within the raw food community, about the maximum permissible temperature for a food. 118 degrees F is a popular number, but I’ve also seen 116 degrees F, 104 degrees F, and at least three other candidates between 104 and 118 degrees F. With the lack of a legal definition or even consensus among raw fooders themselves on exactly what constitutes a “raw” food, anyone can tell you that their chocolate is “raw”, but that may or may not be true. In 2009, for instance, Essential Living Foods (www.essentiallivingfoods.com) issued a statement announcing that they (and, by extension, their customers) had been duped. The supposedly “raw” cocoa and cocoa butter they’d been obtaining from Ecuador was nothing of the kind; it had been processed at temperatures exceeding 200 degrees F. (The company now sources their raw cocoa products from Indonesia and proclaims that they are the world’s first “verified” raw products of this type (meaning that company representatives traveled to Indonesia, videotaped the manufacturing process, and satisfied themselves regarding temperature limitations). But “verified” is not the same as independent, third party certification; that still doesn’t exist.)The temperatures are important, because cacao seeds/beans on the way to becoming chocolate are typically put through several processes that involve heat. There’s fermentation, which rids the beans of some of their bitter and astringent flavors, and subsequent drying of the beans to remove excess moisture prior to storing, sorting, and shipping. Fermentation is carried out when the beans are still surrounded by the fruit pulp of the cocoa pod, and the process lasts for at least 48 hours (sometimes much longer, depending upon many factors). While the temperature of the fermenting mass can rise above 118 degrees F, this is not a given. Much depends on how the fermentation is done; the temperature of the drying beans, too, will vary considerably. Clay Gordon, of www.thechocolatelife.com, notes this, “…It is actually easy to fully and completely ferment cacao (italics and bold type are Mr. Gordon’s) and keep the pile under 118F… The “trick” is to control the size of the pile.
There are a number of fermentation boxes I have personally seen that make it possible to do this…It is somewhat harder to dry the beans and keep the temp under 118F —if the beans are dried in direct sun, and especially if they are dried on a concrete pad. Temperatures can easily reach 140F —at least at the surface of the pad. It is possible to dry beans at low temp, it just takes a lot more care, takes longer - and therefore costs more.”Anyone familiar with the chocolate-making process knows that a critical part of the manufacture of conventional chocolate is roasting. The maker of Amano Chocolate, Art Pollard, states that roasting “is one of the most important steps in the process of developing chocolate flavor”. He adds that roasting temperatures begin at 210 degrees F. Tom Pedersen, of www.cocoapuro.com, tells me that roasting temperatures should be above 212 degrees F, in order to steam off moisture content; higher temperatures also enable caramelization and a process called the Maillard reaction that add flavor to the beans. So a “cold roast” process, that is to say, one under 118 degrees F, can’t exist. Not only that, but the lack of roasting doesn’t allow crucial flavor changes within the cocoa bean, so any “raw” chocolate won’t have the flavor profile associated with conventional chocolate.
Since any genuinely raw chocolate must be made from beans that are not roasted (though they might be dried further at low temperatures), some people are concerned about pathogens in the unroasted beans, including Salmonella. Www.gardenislandchocolate.com quotes Dr. Keith Warriner, a food microbiologist at Canada’s University of Guelph: “Because chocolate is high in fat it protects Salmonella from environmental stress and stomach acid…if chocolate does become contaminated, Salmonella survives longer and only needs to be present in low numbers to survive passage through the stomach.”
Colin Gasko (www.roguechocolatier.com) tells me that people wouldn’t want to eat raw chocolate if they saw the way cacao beans were treated in countries where they’re grown. He has seen beans stored outdoors, by the side of the road, or under other decidedly non-hygienic conditions, such as sharing an area with chickens, who walk over and/or defecate on them.
Kristen Hard (www.cacaoatlanta.com) agrees. She’s visited Venezuela to source beans, and there are no sanitary regulations on farms where beans are initially processed and dried. Animals, she explains, are “out and about among the beans”. Ms. Hard points out that there are some lower-heat, or non-heat-dependent, methods that might help this situation, such as ultraviolet lights. Farmers that grow cacao are generally poor, though, so any technology of this type would likely have to be supplied by an outside source. I have not heard of any cacao farmers being supplied with non-heat-dependent means to reduce pathogens. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening, but if I were a supplier or client doing this, I’d use it as a selling point. Surely germ-phobe Americans (and we are germ-phobes) would want to know that their raw cacao beans had less risk of possible pathogen contamination than untreated beans?If cacao beans do become contaminated, even a thorough cleaning and winnowing of beans might not be sufficient to remove pathogens from them, something else that higher-heat roasting can accomplish. Not everyone shares these apprehensions; Samantha Madell (www.tava.com.au) is a chocolate maker in Australia who has done considerable research into this issue, and she has found no occurrences of raw chocolate causing salmonella poisoning. Her belief is that “chocolate products typically become dangerous when non-cocoa ingredients, such as egg and dairy products, are added to them”. And in fairness, it should be noted that cases of Salmonella poisoning have occurred in conventional chocolate. Post-processing testing for pathogens is important for all chocolate products, raw or conventional.
There’s another process after roasting that can heat cacao beans to higher temperatures. Once the beans are freed of their outer shells, the bean pieces, or nibs, are crushed in mills that operate at high speed. The resulting paste-like mixture is cacao liquor or chocolate liquor (unsweetened chocolate, in layman’s terms, and, despite the name, it contains no alcohol). The friction in any high speed process will usually generate a good amount of heat; Tom Pedersen informs me that the grinding process generally raises cacao liquor temperatures upwards of 130 degrees F, and even higher temperatures have been mentioned by others who work with conventional chocolate. Samantha Madell believes that grinding nibs under 118 degrees F is entirely possible, but she says, “It’s easy to coarsely grind nibs at a low temperature…it’s also easy to grind small quantities of nibs, or to grind nibs for a short time, or to stone grind nibs slowly, or with expensive water-cooled equipment, at low temps.” (The italics are hers.)
Jordan Schuster, of The Fearless Chocolate Company (www.fearlesschocolate.com), writes that Fearless uses “water jacketed ball mills” for nib grinding. Daniel Sklaar (www.fineandraw.com) employs a small (65 pound) stone grinder for his admittedly small-scale business, but adds that there are several different machines capable of grinding at low temperature. John Nanci (www.chocolatealchemy.com) agrees, saying that standard (read: industrially-produced) chocolate is ground in a high speed mill. Nanci has been making his own non-raw chocolate on a small scale for years. For grinding, he employs a peanut grinder, and the end product emerges “at around 110 F”.
After the chocolate liquor is produced, most manufacturers will conche it. While there’s some debate about whether conching improves the flavor of the chocolate, the process unquestionably provides a smoother chocolate. Originally, chocolate was conched in long stone receptacles; the process was accomplished with stone balls and often took days. Modern manufacturing uses heavy rollers or rotary mixing blades, and chocolate may be conched for only a few hours or for up to several days. Bear in mind that the chocolate undergoing conching needs to be in liquid form. The question now becomes, is it possible to conch at temperatures under 118 degrees F? John Nanci sells devices called “melangers”, for conching small quantities of chocolate. His take on the situation? “I’ve heard of people using the melangers I sell to make raw chocolate by somehow keeping the temperature under 118 F, but personally I’ve never been able to do it.” His e-mail added that his current batch of chocolate, in the melanger as he typed, was 127 F, “and many batches I run are above 135 F.” By contrast, Daren Hayes (www.stirsthesoul.com) declares that keeping chocolate under 118F while conching is “all about climate control”. He has an airflow going over the motors of his conching machines, as well as an exhaust fan that can either heat or cool the room in which the machines are located.
Again, after the chocolate liquor is produced, it’s sometimes separated into its components (cacao butter and cacao powder) via hydraulic press. These presses are serious business; according to Maricel E. Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate, they can exert a force of over six thousand pounds per square inch. As a rule, that amount of pressure results in a build-up of heat. How much heat? Samantha Madell comments that she and her partner have pressed cocoa liquor in hydraulic presses at temperatures under 118 degrees F, but that “the same limitations apply as with grinding: if it’s inefficient, or slow, or small scale, or on water-cooled equipment, it’s not too difficult.” Others I’ve talked to, all of whom work with conventional chocolate, don’t think that even slightly larger-scale hydraulic liquor pressing is possible under raw temperature restrictions. There are other ways to separate the components, including a screw expeller (Ms. Madell has had “quite a bit of experience” with screw expellers; she’s never checked the temperature on any she was working with, “but the output was definitely hot—I would guess considerably hotter than 118 F”). There’s also something called the Broma process. In this, ground cacao beans are bagged and hung in a warm room. In theory, the heat in the room causes the cocoa butter to melt and separate from the mass of ground beans. Cocoa butter melts at around normal human body temperature, so the Broma process wouldn’t violate any raw food restrictions. However, the Broma process is notoriously slow and inefficient, and some chocolatiers to whom I’ve spoken don’t think it works at all. While I haven’t checked in with everyone making bean-to-bar raw chocolate, I know of no one using this method.
Even supposing that you can find cacao beans fermented and dried at a low temperature, kept constantly below the 118 degree F threshold, can you manufacture a truly raw chocolate product? That depends. You’ll want to sweeten whatever you’re creating, as unsweetened cocoa powder isn’t especially palatable. Now, as you might expect, chocolates labeled “raw” should not use refined sugar as a sweetener. Agave nectar is a popular choice these days, but is it raw? Well, maybe. Again, because there is no independent raw certification, because there are no legal standards, it’s difficult to be sure. I’ve seen claims that all agave nectar is processed at temperatures under 118 degrees F, and I’ve seen statements insisting that 140 degrees F is a much more common temperature for making nectar. Another chocolatier, who did not want to be mentioned here, raised another potential problem with agave nectar; it’s water-based. Chocolate, even raw chocolate, is fat-based. This means that chocolate sweetened with agave nectar would be extremely difficult to temper, although at least two bean-to-bar companies offer such a chocolate. If you don’t know about tempering, it’s a complex process, but one vital to most chocolate. Skillful tempering is what gives chocolate its shine, a good smooth texture, and that satisfying “snap” you get when you break a piece from a chocolate bar.
The next few blog posts will be articles about "Raw Chocolate" and if it is really raw?
There are some pretty mixed opinions out there on chocolate which is being marketed as “raw”.
Most raw chocolate enthusiasts are looking for a chocolate that has higher levels of antioxidants / flavanols / polyphenols. Essentially the stuff that is really good for you, and is reported to have very high levels in dark chocolate. There have been many research articles on the benefits of dark chocolate for our health, and it is now known that if we have chocolate with a high cocoa content as part of a balanced diet, our physical and mental health can gain from it. It has been found that cacao which is processed under around 46C has even higher levels of these health giving properties. The enzymes which contain the antioxidants present in the cacao are preserved when it is processed at low temperatures, explaining the increased health benefits.
“Raw chocolate” is very often made by blending cocoa butter and cocoa powder with binding ingredients and sweeteners, such as coconut oil and agave syrup. Although this technique can often produce some very tasty results, it is not really making chocolate, (and it definitely isn’t making chocolate from bean to bar!) The producer is working with recipes in a way that any enthusiast could replicate at home with a basic kitchen and the right ingredients. Why not give it a go using these recipes for instance.
The intentions of producers making chocolate commercially this way are usually well meant, but there are some key points that dispute the definition of raw. We should consider the fermentation of the cacao. Fermentation takes place at the origin, either on the farm itself or at a nearby processing station. This natural process is essential when developing the tannins and unpleasant acid flavours found in truly raw cacao (straight off the tree) into nice fruity, chocolate flavours. Fermentation usually takes place over several days, with the cacao being turned to ensure an even ferment and the introduction of some oxygen. Fermentation will typically reach temperatures of between 45C and 50C. Most raw “chocolate makers” may have no idea at what temperatures their cacao has been fermented. There are however some cacao processors who will purposefully under-ferment their cacao so that it can reach the raw chocolate market.
If fermentation takes place at a low temperature the cacao will not develop to it’s full flavour. If it doesn’t fully ferment, it will likely be left with an unpleasant astringency depending on the particular cacao being used.
The ability to produce “raw” cocoa powder, and cocoa butter under a temperature of 46C has been challenged by those working in the industry. A typical cocoa press used to create cocoa butter usually keeps the butter melted at around 70C. It has been suggested that many of the cacao powder and cacao butter products available to raw chocolatiers are coming out of high temperature processes, and are in fact frauds. However, there are two excellent companies out there who are pioneering new techniques to genuinely create raw cacao powder and cacao butter. Big Tree Farms, in Indonesia, and Pacari in Ecuador. In any case, it is worth asking a raw chocolate producer to provide evidence that their products have been treated at low temperatures to validate the claims of higher antioxidant levels.
There is another more worrying aspect to consider about raw chocolate. Roasting is not only done to develop flavours, but also to kill bacteria. If consumers with a high regard for their health were to be shown how cacao is usually fermented and dried at source they may wish to re-consider. Cacao is typically fermented poorly under shade crop leaves (such as bananas), and laid out on a tarp to dry out in the sun (see my other topic, why chocolate should be expensive). Exposed to the elements throughout, there are many hygiene risks cacao is exposed to if it is not treated with care in a dedicated processing facility. It may shock to know that most of the worlds chocolate is originally processed on farm. Both Hershey’s and Cadbury’s have in the past had to recall products because of Salmonella. “Raw” chocolate is not roasted, therefore any bacteria picked up on route to processing will still be present in the finished chocolate. A producer making “raw” chocolate should be able to prove that their products have been processed hygienically to avoid such risks.
The word raw has been redefined within the chocolate industry to market “raw” chocolate products. The producers of “raw” appear to be holding on to the term to separate it from conventionally processed chocolate, using it to give a competitive edge. The word raw is used to define their chocolates health benefits, often without an in depth knowledge of the processes involved. To me the word raw means unprocessed. A carrot I pull from the ground or a cacao pod which I cut from a tree and open to eat will give me a raw food. In my opinion, cacao which has been fermented, dried, crushed, and mixed with other ingredients is not really raw.
We don’t dispute the figures showing that cacao processed at lower temperatures retains more of it’s antioxidants, and the flavours which can be obtained by low temperature processing can occasionally be delightful. But these products shouldn’t be labelled raw. If a chocolate maker chooses to continue using this term once they have the facts about the processing of their “raw” ingredients, they could be misleading consumers. As there is no regulatory body for this kind of terminology, it’s something that we may just have to accept.
So with this in mind all of the products which are made using unroasted cacao will be labelled as “Unroasted” rather than “Raw”, as this reflects more honestly the processes involved.