Yes, there are health benefits!
By Ivy Ciolli
When we think of February, we think of hearts, love, and most of all, CHOCOLATE! Okay, well I certainly do, and I’m sure I’m not the only chocolate fanatic out there! Many of us like to use the excuse that chocolate has so many health advantages, which is true. We hear of the common ones such as antioxidants, but are you aware of the mood-enhancing benefits of cacao?
The Benefits of Eating Chocolate
I read on www.foodmatters.com that cacao boosts brain levels of serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical. When women are experiencing PMS, serotonin levels drop dramatically. (I envision husbands running out for chocolate as they read this!) The benefits of cacao are proven to boost the brain levels of calming hormones and restore feelings of well-being.
Cacao also contains the mood-improver, anandamide—known as the bliss molecule, which creates a feeling of euphoria. Another mood-enhancing compound found in cacao is PEA (or phenethylamine), which triggers the release of endorphins and pleasurable opium-like neurochemicals. Your sweetheart is sure to adorn the bedroom with chocolate truffles when they hear about this benefit!
Mineral-rich cacao energizes the body without overstimulating the nervous system, giving you incredible long-lasting energy. Cacao is a healthy way to combat fatigue and has a high concentration of magnesium. Magnesium helps to protect against osteoporosis, reduces type II diabetes, and lowers blood pressure!
What to Look Out For
Now you must ask, “Where should I source my chocolate from?” First, there is some advice I would like to dip your thoughts into. We all understand how important it is to source organic and non-GMO products. However, do you pay attention to the fair trade label you may see on packaging? You can find fair trade chocolate at your favorite natural health food store, such as Natural Grocers, or at your local farmers market. Here’s a little simple diagram of what fair trade actually means and how it benefits the farmer.
Caption: Fair Trade chocolate is chocolate that is made with cacao beans from farmers who are paid a fair price for their crop, instead of the low price set by the market. This allows farmers to lift themselves out of poverty and build a better life for their families.
Three Valley Chocolatiers
There is an abundance of delectable, melt-in-your mouth chocolates out there. Below, I will indulge your aromatic senses in my three favorite chocolatiers in the Valley.
b Naked Chocolates
The first two my family visits on a weekly basis at the Old Town Scottsdale farmers’ market. My husband has a special love for b Naked Chocolates. Sue, the owner, makes a decadent cacao-dipped macaroon that my husband inhales before I can get my hands on them.
Stone Grindz Chocolate
Then there is my preferred choice, Stone Grindz Chocolate. My favorite is their two-time award-winning coconut milk ginger bar. There’s nothing more euphoric than this bar! My alternative choice would be their salted almond bar. They use cacao beans from all over the world, and company representatives will give you a tutorial of each bar if you take time to do a chocolate tasting at the market.
Finally, if you’re looking for a chocolate mecca experience, hands-down you must visit Zak’s Chocolate! My husband and I fell upon this cacao haven on our 10th anniversary. We were just expecting to pick from an assortment of stunning chocolate designs behind the glass counter, but found ourselves in a dark chocolate connoisseur conversation with the owners. The only way to stop my husband from talking was to stuff a decadent chocolate in his mouth, or like they did, take us for a private tour in the back where all the cacao magic happens.
We were amazed by how many steps go into producing one chocolate truffle. They begin by tediously sorting the cacao beans by hand. The next step is the intricacy of roasting the beans. The beans are then strategically loaded into large mixing bowls. They slowly churn the cacao, stirring up the aromatic flavors of the beans, which eventually turns into the smooth creamy consistency that is then distributed into molds.
As if our experience couldn’t get any better, they made us a housemade hot cocoa that was adorned with a homemade marshmallow. As my palate savored the flavor of my first truffle, I turned to my husband—only to find that he had devoured all the chocolates in seconds.
One thing I know for sure is that if I was in the chocolate biz, my husband and mother would eat all the profits before they made it to the shelves!
Here’s what I learned at www.zakschocolate.com: “Zak’s Chocolate is a local, award-winning, small-batch craft chocolate maker and an artisan chocolate shop. We are one of a small number of chocolate shops that makes 100% of our own chocolate.
Sourcing of Zak’s Chocolates
“At Zak’s we roast only ethically sourced cocoa beans and our own single-origin and proprietary House Blend chocolate to use in dark, milk & white chocolate bars, as well as bonbons, truffles, brownies and other yummy confections. Everything is done by hand, from sorting cocoa beans to wrapping bars to hand crafting our chocolates.
“Cocoa beans are the seed of the cacao tree, and each cacao origin will taste different based on the bean variety, its growing environment and how we roast and bring out unique flavor profiles. Like coffee and wine, each cocoa bean comes from a unique terroir that impacts its flavor.
“Our single-origin dark chocolate bars contain only organically farmed cocoa beans (most of which are organically certified), organic cane sugar and a small amount of cocoa butter to enhance the smoothness of our chocolate (which we press in-house from the same beans used in each origin bar). Our chocolate making style results in a chocolate that is creamy and smooth, but not bitter.
“All of our dark chocolate bars are vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free. We also offer a rotating selection of beautiful and tasty bonbons and caramels, including several vegan bonbons. Our milk chocolate bars are crafted with the same ingredients as our dark chocolate with the addition of organic whole milk. We do not use soy, corn syrup or anything to artificially extend the shelf life in any of our products.”
Zaks prides itself in using only ethically sourced cacao to craft their chocolate. Ethical sourcing involves environmental, economic and social standards relating to the farming practices, as well as the people they purchase cocoa beans from and through. In other words, ethical sourcing is about knowing where your food (in this case, chocolate) comes from, how it’s made, how the land is treated, and how all the people involved in the process handle mutual responsibilities.
From one chocolate lover to another, will you “bean” mine?
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Ivy Ciolli is a native of Arizona born with the innate desire to protect Mother Earth. She is a wife and proud mother of Cole and Brooklyn. Her days are filled with volunteering at her children’s school, and philanthropic work involving abused and neglected children and animals.