Hägeland – Costa Rica 71%

This Hägeland chocolate bar, 71%, was made of Trinitario beans. According to their website, their Costa Rican beans are obtained from a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm, the leaders in sustainability farming, especially for crops like chocolate and coffee.

The bar had a bittersweet aroma, fruity without being too acidic

It was bitter at first, which turned to vanilla and raspberry

smooth melt, silky, earthy chocolate after taste

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Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 10:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Chocolate in Science – About Antioxidants

Not too long ago I posted about a research article describing how the chemicals in chocolate can help prevent cells from dying. I came across an article published last month detailing the antioxidant content of dark chocolate and cocoa, explaining what the antioxidants were and how much is absorbed by the body.

The review paper is called “Theobroma cacao L., the Food of the Gods: A scientific approach beyond myths and claims” (M. Rusconi and A. Conti, Pharmac. Res. 2010 (61): 5-13) and discusses a few interesting points I wanted to share.

The amount of antioxidants, or polyphenols, in a dark chocolate bar varies greatly between manufacturers. In fact, beans from different countries can have different levels of polyphenols, then, depending on the fermentation, roasting and manufacturing processes, the amounts are further varied. A typical dark chocolate bar (greater than 35% cacao) can have anywhere from 0.3 – 2.5 g of antioxidants per 100 g of chocolate. That’s a pretty big range, and unfortunately there’s really no way to tell unless you analyze the chocolate in a lab, and most chocolate makers don’t do that. So, while a higher percentage of chocolate most likely contains more antioxidants, it’s not always certain.

The majority of antioxidants in chocolate are called catechins (same ones as found in green tea..) or are groups of two catechins (or dimers, called procyanidin).  When you eat chocolate, the dimers can break in half in your stomach, which makes it easier for them to be absorbed into your bloodstream in the intestines. It also doesn’t seem to matter if you eat chocolate or drink cocoa – the catechins are still found in your bloodstream relatively quickly after eating. This contradicts an older study that said the presence of milk prevents the absorption of catechins, though they are not sure why. I guess this is still something open to debate and study.

Chocolate is the third greatest source of antioxidants in the American diet, after fruits and vegetables! However, I highly doubt people will start saying “A chocolate bar a day keeps the doctor away.” It can certainly help increase your antioxidant intake, but the typical chocolate bar is also a great source of fat and sugar. That doesn’t really stop me from eating a lot of it, though 🙂

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Chocolate in Science

I’m always the first one to roll my eyes at the latest “study” that came out touting the antioxidant or other health related properties of various foods (chocolate, wine, etc). Sure, a lot of them are based on what I would consider “real science” but get a bit blown out of proportion by the media. However, today I was doing a literature search (“scientist” is my day job) and came across a paper entitled: “Protective Activity of Theobroma cacao L. Phenolic Extract on AML12 and MLP29 Liver Cells by Preventing Apoptosis and Inducing Autophagy.” (Arlorio, M et al. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2009 (57): 10612-10618) It immediately caught my eye because it had Theobroma cacao in the title, and as I read it, I found it to be very interesting and wanted to share the main findings.

To sum up (and translate the title!), there are small molecules in chocolate called phenols which the researchers extracted from both roasted and unroasted cacao beans (for comparison). They fed them to liver cells and observed some interesting results. After letting the cells “consume” the chocolate chemicals, they added celecoxib (CLX), which is an anti-inflammatory drug that is known to kill liver cells by causing them to go into a process called apoptosis. Apoptosis is also known as programmed cell death, or cell suicide, and is a very complicated process by which cells detect that they are damaged or under too much stress and gradually shut down and die.

They looked at the cells after giving them CLX to see how many were still alive. More cells survived if they had been fed chocolate. The researchers showed that the chemicals in chocolate can actually protect the cells from apoptosis and keep them alive so they have a chance to recover. That’s pretty cool! That means it could be possible to help protect your liver from disease by eating chocolate!

A few disclaimers: The study was done in vitro which means in glass, so the cells are not in their natural environment. Therefore, it is possible that cells behave differently in the body than they do in a petri dish. In addition, unroasted chocolate was better than roasted chocolate in this study, but we usually eat chocolate that has been roasted. There are more, but I won’t get into them here.

However, who doesn’t love a good excuse to really enjoy that dark chocolate bar? 🙂

Published in: on December 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm  Comments (1)  
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How I taste chocolate

Since I was a kid, I have always loved chocolate (and sweets in general). However, I didn’t always eat them in order to appreciate the full chorus of flavors present. My aunt loves to tell the story about the Christmas when I was 6 and I shoved 7 Christmas cookies in my mouth all at once. As I grew older, I wanted to understand the depth of chocolate, so I picked up Chloe Doutre-Roussel’s book “The Chocolate Conoisseur” and the way I approached tasting chocolate changed dramatically.

I start by Looking at and Smelling the chocolate. I think this is the first step when really tasting anything (I know for wine, beer and cheese tasting it is). I make note of the types of things I smell, whether it be fruit or flowers or earth.

Then, I Break it. I want to listen for the snap. Darker, well tempered chocolate breaks with a nice, sharp snap. In Chloe’s book, she breaks it before smelling it.. I do too, sometimes because it’s easier to hold a small piece up to my nose.

Then, it’s Taste time. I bite off a small piece and let it coat my mouth as it melts. I try to pay attention to the first flavor impressions I get. There are usually 2 to 3 tasting phases: when it first hits my mouth, during and just after it has melted, and then the aftertaste (after I swallow). I find it interesting to compare the flavors I detected in the aroma and in the taste – sometimes they are very different! Chloe has a wonder flavor wheel in her chapter on tasting to help you identify the different types of possible flavors. You can download a free PDF of her chapter on tasting at her website.

For tasting filled candies (truffles and things), Chloe recommends cutting it in half, and tasting the filling and the shell separately and then together in order to get a full understanding of the flavor. For bars with nuts/nibs in or sprinkled on top… if I can remove the topping, then I will taste those separately and then together as well. Sometimes the things are inside the bar so it is difficult to remove. However, letting the chocolate melt a little bit first before chewing it up a bit helps me to isolate the chocolate flavors. But, it is good in these cases to then chew it and taste the whole set of flavors together because that’s how the chocolatier intended it to taste. I stuck to plain chocolate bars when I was first starting (and still am, mostly) because I think I need to sophisticate my palette a bit more first before I start tasting things with nuts or other crazy spices added!

I know that my palette is going to continue growing as I keep tasting, because right now I sometimes find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what flavor I’m tasting. I practice with regular food and drink as well (I love tasting beer and wine, and I’ve found that these also have helped me to identify certain fruit and acid flavors).

Hope this helps anyone looking to taste chocolate in a new way! Best of luck!

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Lake Champlain Chocolates – Dark Chocolate 54%

I was standing in the check out line at Whole Foods, and saw a little bowl with these little squares of dark chocolate. I’ve heard good things about Lake Champlain Chocolates (and am still sad I didn’t get a chance to visit them when I was in Vermont in December). This 0.4 oz bar has 54% cocoa, and the list of ingredients were all natural.

The chocolate smells a bit flowery. The flavor is at first earthy and it melts with soft fruity undertones, like blueberry and blackberry. It is sweet, but not overpowering. It almost tastes like a really good cup of hot cocoa, and I think I would actually prefer it in liquid form.

Lake Champlain 54%

Published in: on April 8, 2009 at 1:21 pm  Comments (2)  

Getting Started…

I have always adored chocolate. While calling myself a “chocoholic” implies that it is an unhealthy passion, it is true I can barely go a day without a taste of the magnificent stuff. However, one day I was eating a generic dark chocolate bar when I realized that I didn’t really know chocolate.

Where did this bar I was eating come from? How was it made? What makes a good chocolate bar? That was when I decided I wanted to become a chocolate connoisseur. So, I’m starting this blog to chart my progress through tasting new and exciting kinds of chocolate, and eventually tracking my quest through the shops of the best chocolatiers in the world!

I began by doing some background research (I am a scientist, so this was a logical place to start). I read “The True History of Chocolate” by Sophie and Michael Coe, and it was fascinating. It was probably the best book I read last year, though it resulted in me annoying my friends and family with “Did you know..” conversations. Following the history of chocolate, I picked up “The Chocolate Connoisseur” by Chloe Doutre-Roussel which got me well on my way to learning how to properly choose, and then taste chocolate!!

Published in: on January 16, 2009 at 1:58 pm  Comments (1)