I have to admit, dark chocolate is a weakness of mine. I absolutely love a rich piece of dark chocolate as my go to indulgence. The good news for fellow chocolate enthusiasts is that cocoa has some amazing health benefits.
Cocoa beans are seeds from the theobroma cacao tree. Cocoa beans contain a natural chemical called flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that has important health benefits. Many people have heard of antioxidants and that consuming antioxidants can improve your health, but you may not understand how they are beneficial. Antioxidants help to stabilize and remove free radicals in your body. Free radicals occur naturally in your body as byproducts of metabolism. They are also produced in your body when you break down harmful chemicals from the environment such as smoke. Free radicals can damage our DNA and cell membranes leading to aging, cancer, and a variety of diseases. Your body has developed ways of managing free radicals, but an excess toxic burden can create extra burden on your body. This increases the need for antioxidants.
Gram for gram, cocoa is one of the most antioxidant rich foods that we know of. Other flavanol rich foods include tea, berries and other fruit. One study showed that cocoa is more beneficial to health than teas and red wine in terms of its higher antioxidant capacity. Cocoa contains flavanoids called flavanols. Numerous studies have demonstrated the potential cardiovascular benefit from flavanol containing food such as cocoa. The benefits include a reduced risk of vascular disease, enhancing vascular function, and a small reduction in blood pressure. In addition to the antioxidant benefits of cocoa, it is also a great source of magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, and potassium.
Keep in mind that not all cocoa is equal. How the cocoa is harvested and processed can negatively affect the antioxidant benefit, reducing the flavonoid content by as much as 90%! The addition of chemicals and roasting the beans particularly damages the flavonoids. It is best to choose raw organic cocoa to maximize the nutrition and health benefits that cocoa can offer. The word cacoa is generally used instead of cocoa to indicate that the product is raw.
Though dark chocolate is beneficial for your health, the high calorie content of cocoa makes it something that should be enjoyed in moderation. This can be difficult given how delightfully decadent these chocolates are! These delicious chocolates were adapted from two sources: My New Roots (one of my favourite food blogs) and Empowered Sustenance.
- ½ cup pitted mejool dates
- ½ cup coconut milk, warmed
- ½ cup coconut oil, melted
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp. sea salt
- ¼ cup coconut oil, melted (use a tasteless coconut oil to avoid an excessive coconut flavour to your chocolates. I personally don’t mind the coconut flavour)
- 1 ½ tbsp cacao butter, melted
- 3 tbsp raw honey
- 5 tbsp raw cacao powder
- ⅛ tsp sea salt
1) Melt the coconut oil and the cacao butter in a double boiler.
2) Remove from heat and whisk the honey into the melted mixture.
3) Sift in cacoa powder and salt in order to avoid lumps. Whisk until combined.
1) Remove the pits from the dates, measure and let soak in very hot water for 15 minutes. Drain the water and add to a food processor.
2) Heat the coconut oil and coconut milk on low heat until the oil just melts and add to the food processor.
3) Add the vanilla extract and sea salt. Blend all of the ingredients in a food processor until well blended.
1) I’ve made these using an ice cube tray but a silicone mold produces the best results. Spoon the chocolate mixture into the molds. Start by filling up the mold or ice cube tray about ¼- ½ way up. Swirl the mold around, attempting to coat the sides with chocolate. I find it easier to get the chocolate to stick to the sides of the mold if you pre-freeze your mold for about 30 minutes.
2) Place the partially filled molds in the freezer for 10 minutes to harden.
3) Remove from freezer and spoon some of the caramel filling in each mold, the amount being determined by how much filling you’d like to have. Depending on your mold size, each chocolate will have about ½ – 1 tsp of caramel.
4) Pour the chocolate onto the caramel filling until the mold is full.
5) Place the chocolates into the freezer for a minimum of one hour.
6) You can remove the chocolates from the molds and place them into an airtight container or you can leave them in the mold. If you have additional chocolate and caramel you might want to continue making chocolates until you have no more ingredients.
7) This recipe is to make raw chocolates so unfortunately they will need to be stored in the freezer and not taken out for more than 15 minutes because they will melt.
Keen, Carl, Roberta R Holt, Patricia Oteiza, Cesar G Fraga, and Harold H Schmitz. Cocoa antioxidants and cardiovascular health. Am J Clin Nutr January 2005 vol. 81 no. 1 298S-303.
Lee, Ki Won, Young Jun Kim , Hyong Joo Lee , and Chang Yong Lee. Cocoa Has More Phenolic Phytochemicals and a Higher Antioxidant Capacity than Teas and Red Wine. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2003; 51 (25), pp 7292–7295.
Ried K, Sullivan TR, Fakler P, Frank OR, Stocks NP. Effect of cocoa on blood pressure. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Aug 15;8:CD008893. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008893.pub2.