Time to unwrap….
Well, the weather’s turning just enough to let us think about ditching the coats, but with Easter approaching, unwrapping can relate to only one thing…chocolate! We will definitely be joining the party for the weekend by indulging in delicious raw chocolates.
So, what is raw chocolate?
Well, beans from the Theobroma cacao tree are the starting point. The key difference between your typical Easter Egg chocolate and raw chocolate is that the beans used to make raw chocolate are heated at low temperatures (up to 42°C - often simply in the sunshine) thereby retaining the ‘cacao’ label, whereas those used in commercial chocolate bars are usually roasted at 130-400°C, then being identified as the ingredient ‘cocoa’ that goes in to the chocolate.
Raw chocolate usually contains a small handful of ingredients (raw cacao powder, perhaps cocoa butter and coconut blossom sugar, for example) whereas commercial chocolate often contain, milk, soya, processed fats, sweeteners, artificial flavourings and preservatives - with cocoa often ending up a long way down the ingredient list.
Why does this matter?
Raw cacao beans contain more than 300 compounds, many of which are nutrients beneficial to health. However, these compounds are typically heat-sensitive and so roasting and processing them to produce cocoa destroys their beneficial properties, whereas the low temperature drying or heating approach used for raw cacao preserves the good stuff for when we come to eat it.
Raw cacao has essential minerals, like magnesium and iron, which support energy production, relaxation, and sleep amongst others, but also contains so-called ‘phytonutrients’ (nutrients in plants), that usually help to protect the plant from disease or attack, but also confer benefits to us when we eat them.
The key compounds that offer health benefits are a group of nutrients called flavonols.
Flavanols have a bitter taste and they are responsible for the bitterness of pure cacao and dark chocolate. So yes, the bitterness is good for you! In commercial chocolates, that bitterness is often washed away through processing.
So why should we indulge?
Flavonols help our bodies to create anti-oxidants which help protect us against the damaging effects of ‘free radicals’, molecules that the body creates naturally. It’s a bit like thinking of the body rusting if we (and these anti-oxidants) don’t mop up the free radicals to protect ourselves - Vitamin C can act in a similar way.
In particular, flavonols have been shown to provide protective effects for our heart and blood vessels, brain health and cognition and immunity and result in decreased inflammation.
Do you still need convincing??
Raw chocolate doesn’t have to be bitter - we stock ‘mylk’ buttons - a hit with kids and parents alike, champagne and salted almond truffles, and chocolate covered gingers, as well as the darker chocolate and cacao nibs.
Owing to the short ingredient list and minimal processing, raw chocolates are often suitable for those who follow dairy, soy or gluten-free diets - though do be sure to check the particular product you’d choose, as we haven’t tried them all (yet)!
Finally, most of the chocolate companies we work with also place a high focus on ethical supply sources and sustainable packaging…this is part of who they are, so they don’t make a song and dance about it.
‘Theobroma cacao’ is known as the ‘food of the Gods’ - I can understand why!
Almoosawi S et al. The effect of polyphenol-rich dark chocolate on fasting capillary whole blood glucose, total cholesterol, blood pressure and glucocorticoids in healthy overweight and obese subjects. Br J Nutr. 2010 Mar;103(6):842-50.
Brickman, AM et al., Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults. Nature Neuroscience, volume 17, pages1798–1803 (2014)
Desideri G e al, Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study. Hypertension. 2012 Sep;60(3):794-801.
Guyenet, S. (2011). Polyphenols, Hormesis and Disease: Part II. [Blog] Whole Health Source. Available at: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/polyphenols-hormesis-and-disease-part.html [Accessed 4 Jan. 2017].
Katz DL et al. Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2011 Nov 15;15(10):2779-811.
Lee KW et al, Cocoa has more phenolic phytochemicals and a higher antioxidant capacity than teas and red wine. J Agric Food Chem. 2003 Dec 3;51(25):7292-5.
Mastroiacovo D et al. Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study--a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Mar;101(3):538-48.
Neshatdoust S et al. High-flavonoid intake induces cognitive improvements linked to changes in serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor: Two randomised, controlled trials. Nutr Healthy Aging. 2016 Oct 27;4(1):81-93.
Pérez-Cano FJ et al. The effects of cocoa on the immune system. Front Pharmacol. 2013 Jun 4;4:71.
Rostami A et al. High-cocoa polyphenol-rich chocolate improves blood pressure in patients with diabetes and hypertension. ARYA Atheroscler. 2015 Jan;11(1):21-9.
Vlachojannis J et al. The Impact of Cocoa Flavanols on Cardiovascular Health. Phytother Res. 2016 Oct;30(10):1641-1657.