Chocolates are everyone’s favourite. Since our childhood, the most favourite sweet treat are the chocolates. Chocolates are the finest creation of humankind. Chocolates are always the best gifts and act as a symbol of love, care, and affection. Chocolate is one of the most popular flavours and desert in the world. No other flavour can beat this chocolaty flavour. They are used in making cakes, cookies, biscuits, pudding, mousse, brownies, ice creams, candies, and beverages.
Chocolates are prepared from the fruit of a tropical tree, Theobroma cacao. The orange ripe fruits are opened and seeds are obtained. Seeds are fermented to develop the flavour. Fermented beans are then dried, cleaned, and roasted. Roasting helps in removing hulls from the beans. Roasted beans are winnowed and hulls are easily separated.
The remaining part of the bean is called the nib. Nibs become chocolates. Nibs are grounded to form a cocoa mass, which is then heated to form a thick paste of chocolate liquor. Liquor can be processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Bitter or unsweetened chocolates contain cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions, without any added sugar. Sweet chocolates are the most widely consumed chocolates and made by combining cocoa solids, cocoa butter or vegetable oil, and sugar. Milk chocolates, white chocolates, and dark chocolates are the three forms of sweet chocolates. Bear these things in mind when you order chocolate bars that are dairy free.
A 100-gram serving of dark chocolates supplies 546 calories. It is 47% fats, 20% carbohydrates, and 9% of proteins. It is an excellent source of iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Cocoa is the rich source of various bioactive compounds such as procyanidins, theobromine, epicatechin, catechins, and caffeine.
Chocolates are brain food
Chocolates are brain food. Cacao beans are packed with phytochemicals, which act as antioxidants and provide health benefits. Several studies have reported the positive effects of chocolate consumption on cognitive functions. Chocolates help to prevent cognitive decline caused by ageing.
Chocolates symbolise happiness. They are often referred to as stress-busters. The mere smell, taste, and texture of the chocolates are enough to exhibit its positive effect on mood. Among milk and white chocolates, dark chocolates are the most beneficial for the brain. Dark chocolates that contain 70–85% of cocoa, are loaded with polyphenols, flavanols, and catechins.
Flavanols are a form of flavonoids, which is found in large quantities in dark chocolates. Flavanols possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These help in protecting the brain from free radical damage.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It is known for increasing mental alertness and relieving mental fatigue. Theobromine is a caffeine-related compound found in chocolate. It acts as a stimulant and vasodilator. It increases blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain.
Chocolates contain Phenylethylamine, which stimulates the release of dopamine from the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which creates a feeling of pleasure and motivation. Chocolates are also known to boost the production of feel-good hormones, endorphins, from the brain. Endorphins induce a feeling of euphoria and reduces stress.
Anandamide is a chemical compound that gives intense flavour to the dark chocolates. It reduces the levels of stress hormones. Tryptophan is an amino acid that occurs in large quantities in chocolates. Tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for happiness and a positive mood. Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral found in chocolates. It suppresses the release of the stress-inducing hormone, cortisol.
The bottom line
It is important to consume chocolates in moderation. Chocolates are rich in calories and their excessive intake can cause weight gain and subsequent obesity. Overconsumption can mitigate the positive effects of chocolates on health. Dark chocolates are a healthy option for our sweet tooth. It is always appreciated to look at cocoa content before purchasing chocolates for our loved ones and oneself.
Nidhi Joshi is a PhD student at G.B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology.