What is Cocoa and Chocolate?
The beans of the Theobroma cacao plant are processed and used to produce ‘cacao liquor', sometimes simply referred to as cocoa. Cocoa can either be added to sugar and other ingredients such as milk solids to create ‘chocolate' (either ‘dark' or ‘milk') or have its fatty portion (cocoa butter) removed to form ‘cocoa powder' – the substance often used as ‘chocolate flavouring' when added as an ingredient to other foods.
In Australia there are no specific food regulations to define the different types of chocolate; however, the percentage of key or characterising ingredients must be listed on the ingredients list. Generally chocolate with a higher proportion of cocoa is referred to as dark chocolate and will have the amount of cocoa it contains in the ingredients list. Milk chocolate contains milk solids and smaller amounts of cocoa and the percentage of milk and cocoa will be listed. White chocolate may not have any cocoa at all so it has been debated nationally and internationally whether it should be called chocolate at all. There are many varieties of mixed chocolates and the foods that can be made from chocolate are limited only by imagination.
Is chocolate a health food?
Typically, we have long thought of chocolate as confectionery and might not consider confectionery a healthy food. Published studies are accumulating that suggest cocoa and dark chocolate may decrease the risk factors of some lifestyle related diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The proposed mechanism or the reason for these potentially beneficial effects on our health is thought to be due to its high concentration of polyphenolic compounds; specifically a class of flavonoids called catechins and their oligometric form referred to as procyanadins. 1 Indeed, other flavonoid rich foods have gained attention as being potentially heart-healthy (and to some extent, even cancer-preventative)...