Know Your Calories
1 ounce chocolate (dark, milk, and white) = 155 calories
1 tablespoon cocoa powder = 15 calories
Valentine’s Day is here and that means one thing: Chocolate! Okay, roses and sparkling wine are part of it, too, but chocolate sales spike on this holiday, trailing only Easter with all those adorable chocolate eggs. According to a Nielson Report in 2009, Americans purchased 58 million pounds of chocolate candy for Valentine’s Day (a small percentage of the approximate 3 billion pounds consumed every year!), amounting to sales of $345 million. That’s a lot of calories!
In light of this astounding consumption level, a very brief primer on the difference between dark, milk, and white chocolate is in order. What defines the difference is the combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder. After cocoa beans are fermented and roasted, they’re crushed into a paste called cocoa liquor. The solids may be further separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Varying amounts of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder are mixed with other ingredients, to produce the wide range of chocolates available.
Dark chocolate is comprised of 45% to 85% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, soy lecithin (an emulsifier), and vanilla. It is the most bitter of the three, and the most nutritious because it contains more cocoa polyphenols, namely flavanols. Milk chocolate uses less cocoa solids than dark chocolate, and adds milk or milk powder to the mix. Milk chocolate is creamier on the tongue, sweeter, and to many, more appealing than dark chocolate. White chocolate, made from cocoa butter, milk, and sugar, is not technically a chocolate as it contains no cocoa powder.
Chocolate is considered a super food because of its effect on our hearts. This may sound like a shocker, but it’s really good news for all you chocoholics out there. Dark and milk chocolate, in quantities of about 46 to 105 grams per day can lower blood pressure in those with normal or high blood pressure. Chocolate may improve endothelial dysfunction, which involves the inner lining of our blood vessels and could potentially affect heart disease. Other benefits may include improved cognitive function, insulin resistance, and blood glucose levels. It is the flavanols in chocolate that seem to provide the beneficial cardiovascular effects, likely due to their antioxidant effects and the increased effects of nitric oxide on our blood flow. But don’t let this good news be an excuse to pig out. Be sure to count the calories as part of your daily intake.
Store chocolate at room temperature. If you are in a tropical climate, you may need to store it in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent melting. The white film you sometimes see on the surface chocolate is called bloom. There are two types of bloom: fat bloom, from changes in the fat in the chocolate; and sugar bloom, formed by the action of moisture on the sugar. The unsightly crystals of fat and sugar bloom limit the shelf life of many chocolates. Chocolate that has “bloomed” is still safe to eat, but may have an unappetizing appearance and surface texture.
Catherine loves chocolate pots (pots de crème in French), chocolate soufflés, chocolate cupcakes (only homemade), and a killer chocolate tart with an almond crust. She prefers Lindt dark chocolate, and as a special treat, her husband brings her Belgian Leonidas from Brussels whenever he travels there.
Elaine has a weak spot for dark chocolate espresso beans, dark chocolate covered caramels, and Mexican hot chocolate, made with Ibarra sweet authentic Mexican chocolate. In her own words: Yum.
If you’re determined to cut back on calories, roses might be the way to go for Valentine’s Day. According to the Society of American Florists, in 2010, an estimated 198 million roses were produced for the Valentine’s Day holiday.
Stay healthy and happy! Catherine and Elaine