Not all chocolate is created equal
There’s a reason why most white chocolate seems like all sweetness and no substance. Or why that little “chocolate” treat is waxy. There’s also evidence that it’s far less healthy than pricier, darker choice.
“You get what you pay for,” says Norman Brownlee (Baking ’94), a Culinary Arts pastry instructor who spends a lot of time working with, thinking about and tasting chocolate.
As we approach one of the sweetest times of the year, we asked Brownlee to explain why not all chocolate is created equal.
Butter and solids
Chocolate, Brownlee explains, comprises 2 components: cocoa butter and cocoa solids. Heat a cocoa bean, or nib, and the butter comes out of it, allowing it to be separated out and possibly removed.
As a rule of thumb, both should be on the list of ingredients of a high-quality chocolate product.
White chocolate qualifies as chocolate when …
White chocolate is a good example of that rule. If it has cocoa butter in it, Brownlee considers it the real deal. In fact, he looks for a butter content of about 35 per cent. This will not only give it that classic sheen but it will balance the sweetness with a smooth richness.
“When you get into the cheaper chocolates they use different fats to make it set,” explains Brownlee.
Bad fats and “palate cling”
Common among those are vegetable fats, including palm oil, which is high in the saturated fat that may cause cardiovascular health issues. (Unlike cocoa butter, these fats have a melting point that’s higher than the body’s natural temperature, which causes them to linger dangerously in our systems.)
Since palm oil and similar fats are less expensive, they can be combined with cocoa solids to make less expensive candy. But they have an impact on taste, says Brownlee. “The flavour is not there and the texture’s different. You get that fat that sticks to the roof of your mouth. We call it palate cling.”
Milk vs. dark
This is a matter of preference, of course, notes Brownlee. But he also points out that dark – upwards of 60% – is generally healthier. Cocoa is nutritious, containing minerals and antioxidants. It’s also pleasing to eat: real chocolate causes the brain to release endorphins, the hormones that make us feel good. It even contains stimulants, such as caffeine and theobromine.
“Dark chocolate is a good thing, in moderation,” says Brownlee, who prefers it to sweeter milk chocolate. “I find the flavour more interesting. It’s a lot like red wine. Different chocolates will give you different characteristics.” Because of varying blends of cocoa butter and solids, and differing bean sources, no companies’ dark chocolates will taste the same, even if the same percentages.
Brownlee likes to know where his chocolate comes from. According to Fairtrade Canada, living and working conditions on farms – most of which are run by families in the tropics – can be difficult.
Fairtrade products ensure a minimum price for those who work at chocolate’s source, and raises their standard of living.
At NAIT, Brownlee uses Valrhona and Callebaut chocolate. Both companies actively invest in the livelihood of the farmers and communities that supply them with beans.
Less is more
Browlee has a theory that “with the higher quality chocolate, you don’t have to eat as much.” Unlike less expensive chocolates, the good stuff packs a lot of flavour, which he finds more satisfying. So, while the cost may be higher, you can get away with less.
“You can have a smaller portion and enjoy it that much more.”
It's true: Chocolate can be good for you!
Flavanoids are plant-based compounds that have antioxidant properties and have been found to be important for our health. Research has shown that flavonoids have the potential to improve insulin sensitivity, decrease blood pressure and inflammation, and protect against heart disease. Happily, these compounds are present in cocoa beans – and therefore moreso in dark than milk chocolate.
But before inhaling dark chocolate at all meals, flavonoids can be found in a variety of other foods, such as fruits, vegetables and pulses. These sources are also rich in other nutrients for better overall health.
– Nick Creelman, NAIT registered dietician