Archive for Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Embracing the darker side

New studies, marketing focus on health benefits of dark chocolate

November 2, 2005


Monica Isthas sometimes hears the customers at Penny Annie's Sweet Shoppe sheepishly mention the health benefits of eating dark chocolate as they place their orders.

"It's kind of like they don't know if it's true or not," says Isthas, co-owner of the store at 845 Mass. "It's almost like it's a joke they're using to justify buying it."

Take solace, chocoholic: There is, indeed, truth to the notion that dark chocolate can be healthy in addition to being tasty.

But don't expect it to replace broccoli or carrots as a healthy staple anytime soon.

The debate over chocolate as a health food is likely to step up in coming weeks. Mars Inc. is currently distributing its first shipments of CocoVia chocolate products to stores. The candy bar line is billed as "heart-healthy snacks" that are specially blended to maximize the qualities in dark chocolate that help the circulatory system.

The idea that dark chocolate might benefit health isn't new. In the last decade, many studies have been published pointing to the health effects.

In general, dark chocolate is made with more pure cocoa than milk chocolate. That means it contains more naturally occurring flavanols, which are antioxidant chemicals that destroy destructive molecules in the blood.

The flavanols have been proven to lower blood pressure and don't increase cholesterol.

Various forms of chocolates, such as these creme de menthe truffles, line the displays at Riverfront Chocolates.

Various forms of chocolates, such as these creme de menthe truffles, line the displays at Riverfront Chocolates.

Researchers also are examining whether the flavanols help arteries produce nitric oxide. A lack of nitric oxide can cause vascular diseases that lead to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, dementia and hypertension.

New focus

The emerging research on dark chocolate has some manufacturers rethinking the product. For years, companies have worked to strip the flavanols from dark chocolate because they have a bitter taste.

But as consumers are learning about the health benefits and demanding more dark chocolate, manufacturers are finding ways to make it taste better.

Cheryl Wetherington, owner of Riverfront Chocolates, 1 Riverfront Drive, says the cocoa used for dark chocolate in her shop is conched - or ground - far longer than most mass-produced chocolates. That ensures the bitter taste is removed.

Wetherington says dark chocolate makes up about 25 percent of her shop's sales, compared to the industry average 15 percent. Being located in the SpringHill Suites by Marriott, she says, gives the business better-educated clientele who are more likely to choose dark chocolate.

Alison Vavra, an employee of Riverfront Chocolates, prepares double-dipped cherries in different types of chocolate Thursday afternoon at the shop, 1 Riverfront Plaza. Riverfront Chocolates owner Cheryl Wetherington says dark chocolate makes up about 25 percent of her shop's sales.

Alison Vavra, an employee of Riverfront Chocolates, prepares double-dipped cherries in different types of chocolate Thursday afternoon at the shop, 1 Riverfront Plaza. Riverfront Chocolates owner Cheryl Wetherington says dark chocolate makes up about 25 percent of her shop's sales.

"Milk chocolate is kind of made for the masses," she said.

There are plenty of other food options that have antioxidant qualities. Those include dark-colored foods such as blueberries, raspberries, broccoli, cranberries, spinach and figs.

"Chocolate's more fun," Wetherington said. "It's something people enjoy. You don't want to eat 10 pounds a day, but it's good for your heart, and it'll lower your cholesterol."

Sweet option

"Everything in moderation" is the phrase Peter Beyer, associate professor of dietetics at the Kansas University Medical Center, uses to describe the chocolate debate.

Beyer says he thinks the health benefits of dark chocolate are real, even if some of the research has been sponsored by candy manufacturers. But chocolate also contains a high amount of fat and calories per small serving - 210 calories and 12 grams of fat for a Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate bar.

Still, if you have a sweet tooth, dark chocolate might be a good option.

"It's a better substitute than other foods we find some people may eat," Beyer says. "Instead of, say, a chocolate eclair, a couple pieces of chocolate - and dark chocolate in particular - might benefit them. Sometimes it works as just a little taste of something sweet. You can do that and do some benefit - or at least not do additional harm."

Mars is hoping that philosophy catches on with its CocoaVia line. In addition to the naturally occurring flavanols, the chocolate bars also contain plant sterols, another chemical which can lower cholesterol.

It's already catching on in candy shops. Isthas, of Penny Annie's, said her store had been selling a lot more dark chocolate in recent years. Truffles and dark chocolate bars are among the most popular.

"I think people are picking up on the information they're hearing," she says.

Decadent dark chocolate recipes

Mexican chocolate-filled cornmeal cookies

18 ounces refrigerated sugar cookie dough

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal

20 dark chocolate candy miniatures, unwrapped

1/3 cup cinnamon chips

1 teaspoon shortening

Dash ground red pepper (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Break up cookie dough into large bowl. Add cornmeal; mix well. Shape rounded tablespoon of dough around each candy, covering completely. Place 2 inches apart on sprayed cookie sheets. Bake for 9 to 12 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 1 minute. Remove from cookie sheets; place on wire rack. Cool 10 minutes or until completely cooled. In small microwave-safe bowl, combine chips and shortening. Microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds, stirring ever 15 seconds until smooth. Stir in ground red pepper, if desired. Drizzle glaze over cookies.


Spiced hot chocolate

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

1 scant teaspoon aniseeds, coarsely crushed in a mortar

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

1, 2-inch vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out

1 quarter-sized slice, fresh ginger

1 ounce dark chocolate, finely chopped

Small pinch of salt

In a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, combine cream, milk aniseeds, orange zest, vanilla beans and seeds, and ginger. Bring just to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to very low, and keep at a bare simmer for 10 minutes. Place chocolate in a small bowl. Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain a few spoonfuls of the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and whisk with a small wire whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Strain the rest of the cream mixture over the chocolate. Add the salt and whisk to combine thoroughly before pouring into a serving cup.


Dark chocolate scones

3 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

2 cups chilled whipping cream

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Additional sugar

Powdered sugar (optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets. Stir together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if desired. Stir whipping cream into flour mixture, stirring just until ingredients are moistened. Turn mixture out onto lightly floured surface. Knead gently until soft dough forms (about two minutes). Pat dough into 4 1/2-by-16-inch rectangle about 1 1/4 inches high. Divide rectangle into 12 smaller rectangles each measuring 1 1/2-by-4 inches. Cut each rectangle diagonally, forming a total of 24 triangles. Transfer triangles to prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with additional sugar. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar, if desired.


Snack cake medley

For cream cheese filling:

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For cake:

3 cups flour

2 cups sugar

2/3 cups cocoa

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups water

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes

1/2 cup chopped nuts

To make cream cheese filling: Place chocolate chips in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high for 1 minute and stir. If necessary, microwave an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, until chips are melted and smooth when stirred. Beat cream cheese and sugar in medium bowl until well-blended. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add melted chocolate, beating until well blended.

To make cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 13-by-9-by-20-inch baking pan. Stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add water, oil, eggs, vinegar and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes or until well blended. Pour 3 cups batter into prepared pan. Gently drop cream cheese filling onto batter by heaping teaspoonfuls. Carefully spoon the remaining batter over filling. Combine chocolate chips, coconut and nuts; sprinkle over top of batter. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted into cake center comes out almost clean and cake starts to crack slightly. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cover; store leftover cake in refrigerator.


Dark chocolate-layered cheesecake

For chocolate crumb crust:

1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (about 45 wafers)

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1/4 cup melted butter or margarine

For cake:

24 ounces cream cheese

3/4 cup sugar

4 eggs

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups dark chocolate chips

1/2 teaspoon shortening

To make crust: Stir together wafer crumbs, powdered sugar and cocoa. Stir in melted butter or margarine. Press mixture onto bottom and 1 1/2 inches up sides of 9-inch springform pan.

To make cake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Gradually beat in eggs, heavy cream, vanilla and salt, beating until well blended. Set aside 2 tablespoons chocolate chips. Place remaining chips in large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high for 1 1/2 minutes and stir. If necessary, microwave at high an additional 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating until chocolate is melted when stirred. Gradually blend 1 1/2 cups cheesecake batter into melted chocolate. Remove 2 cups chocolate mixture; spread in bottom of prepared crust. Blend additional 2 cups cheesecake batter into remaining chocolate mixture. Spread 2 cups mixture over first layer in springform pan. Stir remaining cheesecake batter into remaining chocolate mixture; spread over second layer. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until center is almost set. Remove from oven to wire rack. With knife, immediately loosen cake from side of pan. Cool to room temperature. Place reserved chocolate chips and shortening in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at high for 30 seconds and stir. If necessary, microwave at high an additional 10 seconds at a time, stirring after each heating, until chocolate is melted and smooth when stirred. Drizzle over top of cheesecake. Cover; refrigerate several hours until cold. Cover and refrigerate leftover cheesecake.


Gooey, decadent chocolate cake

For chocolate chips butter cream:

3 cups powdered sugar

7 tablespoons hot water

4 ounces dark chocolate, melted and cooled

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 stick butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup semisweet dark chocolate, finely chopped

For cake:

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

3 1/2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet dark chocolate, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups cold water

Raspberry liqueur

Dark chocolate shavings

To make butter cream: In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve the sugar and water at low speed. Beat in the dark chocolate and vanilla. Add butter gradually in small bits. Mix until everything is completely incorporated. Using a spatula, fold in the chopped chocolate and give a final quick spin.

To make cake: Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cooled chocolate and vanilla and beat for 3 minutes to incorporate. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for another 3 minutes. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients in 3 batches, alternating with the cold water. Beat for 1 minute after each addition to incorporate the ingredients. Mix until batter is smooth. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with non-stick cooking spray. Cut two circles of parchment paper to fit the pan bottoms and place them inside the pans; then spray the paper for added nonstick insurance. Pour batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula; the pans should be 2/3 full. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Leave to cool for 40 minutes. Turn the cakes out of the pans and remove the paper. Drizzle them with a few tablespoons of raspberry liqueur. With a metal spatula, spread 1/2 cup butter cream on top one of the layers. Start in the center and work your way out. Carefully place the second layer on top. Smooth the sides with butter cream, then spread the rest over the top of the cake so that the cake is completely covered. Refrigerate for 5 minutes before decorating or cutting. With a large knife, scrape some shavings from a block of dark chocolate. Scatter shavings over cake.



SwingDancer 12 years ago

There's a recently-opened store here in Lawrence right across from the old courthouse - I forget it's name right at the moment - that sells coarsely ground, raw, cacao (cocoa) beans . These are to be eaten just as they are, and they are surprisingly good! They taste just like chocolate! I'm going to go back and get some more. It's too bad Terry Rombeck didn't know about this, it would have been a good addition to his article.

All these candy and "chocolate" stores suck; all of their chocolates, even the "dark" ones, are way too sweet. Many people who profess to love chocolate are really just sugar addicts.

myidea 12 years ago

it's the one that's got the big sign "Herbs" in the front. . .Persephone's Journey. . . I, too, had those cocoa nibs this weekend. . . so good!

Jamesaust 12 years ago

Chocolate is perfectly healthy --- as long as you don't combine it with fat and sugar!

bearded_gnome 12 years ago

Thanks for the word here about the new store...will have to try the chocolate nibs...sounds lovely!

the recipes in this article are great! good job...would love to try the mexican red chili chocolate cookies! just don't eat much simple carbs.

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