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Steve McCardell | stevemccardell

The Basics of Raw Dark Chocolate and ChocoNat

Nov 6th 2011 at 3:27 PM

Although I've loved chocolate all my life, I was introduced to the world of healthy chocolate just a few years ago, and quickly began to investigate the truth and the hype.

Probably hundreds of studies have been published by now about the health benefits of dark chocolate -- and the darker the better, because the health benefits obviously don't come from the sugar or milk found in most chocolates. Cacao, on the other hand -- the basis of chocolate -- appears to have definite heart and circulation benefits while also improving and protecting the skin, lifting mood, improving cholesterol and blood pressure rates, supporting brain health, and more.

With darker chocolate, you not only have less sugar, but you have more of that cacao. But in traditional dark chocolates -- even those that are organic -- the cacao has been cooked, so you're getting fewer enzymes and nutrients.

But with the rising popularity of the raw foods movement, raw chocolate has become an exciting chocolate option that I expect will prove to outperform dark chocolate in terms of health benefits. Among these is my personal favorite, ChocoNat, which is not only one of the most affordable raw chocolates in the marketplace, but also uses fresh, premium (Criollo) beans; has the snap of cooked chocolate (most raw chocolate is soft); and includes a referral program for those who want to share the flavor and health benefits.

One thing I appreciate about raw chocolates is the fact that the companies behind them tend to have a great deal of integrity. They usually look for unprocessed (raw) sugar or sugar alternatives like agave nectar. (Yes, there is also healthy and unhealthy agave nectar.) They often look for additional ingredients to enhance the flavors and health benefits. And in the case of ChocoNat, they use actual vanilla beans rather than vanilla extract.

Even under the heading of raw, though, a lot has to do with the beans themselves, and admittedly not all raw chocolates use the best or freshest beans. Without testing, we don't know exactly what this does to the health benefits themselves. But for flavor, you cannot beat Criollo beans, and you cannot beat "fresh." Criollo is to chocolate as arabica is to coffee -- only it's even rarer. These beans make up about 5% of cacao. It's difficult and expensive to grow, but it's also worth it for those who really love chocolate, with lasting, complex flavors.

Most chocolate you buy is "forastero" -- like robusta coffee, it is a hardy variety, and it's what the majority of chocolate is made from. Its flavor is short-lived and flat. There is also a third variety, which is basically a natural hybrid of these two. It is called Trinitario.

If you've ever smelled or tasted raw cacao (for instance, nibs or powder), you may have experienced it as bitter. This was my past experience. When I got ChocoNat's raw "nibs" so to speak in the form of their Boost product, I was shocked by the difference. It smells like sweetened chocolate, and has an incredible depth of flavor ... and power. It's energy and mood changing powers are stronger than in any chocolate bar I've had.

If people continue to look more for quality vs. quantity, as I believe they will, I believe we'll see more products like ChocoNat and other raw chocolates, that demand organic, fair trade, and other high-integrity aspects of their chocolate. Yes, raw chocolate costs more than other forms of chocolate. But when you can get this kind of flavor and health impact from chocolate, you can satisfy yourself with less. And since all the health studies on chocolate urge moderation, this amounts to a very good thing.

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