Good news for those of us who overindulged on chocolate over the holidays--it's actually good for you. Dark chocolate, anyway. In moderation. It helps blood flow and prevents clotting. Unfortunately, the chemicals that do that good stuff taste bitter. Many chocolate manufacturers take them out entirely, or cover up the taste with lots of sugar.
Researchers in Honduras have uncovered evidence of the earliest known use of chocolate. Residues in pottery indicate that some American Indians were fermenting chocolate fruit into an alcoholic drink as much as 2,400 years ago.
Evidence of the most recent use of chocolate can be found in my garbage can pretty much any day of the week.
(If scientists don’t blow it up first.)
Farmers in Brazil have traditionally cut down large swaths of rain forest to plant cacao trees – the source of chocolate. But these high-yield plantations ravaged the rain forest, depleted the land, and suffered numerous outbreaks of disease. A new method of planting, called cabruca, plants cacao trees right inside the rain forest itself. Only a few rain forest tress are cut down – the forest itself remains intact. The forest nourishes the cacao trees and protects them from plantation diseases. And while the amount of chocolate grown in this manner is smaller than can be grown on a plantation, the farmers can make up the difference by charging a higher price for “environmentally friendly chocolate.”
The scientific name for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao—"food of the gods." Research now verifies that we have been enjoying this treat for more than 3000 years. Although cacao is a blend of more than 500 chemical compounds, the signature chemical is a compound called theobromine. The chocolate residue (theobromine) was found in several jars from the site of Puerto Escondido in Honduras.
Scientists used "high performance liquid chromatography coupled to atmospheric-pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometry"
Dated from around 1100 B.C., this is the earliest evidence to date of the use of cacao.
"Ancient beer makers used the cacao's seedpods to make their drinks. The pods—which were a little smaller than a modern American football—were fermented, and then the pod pulp was used to make the beer." NationalGeographic.com.
"It was beer with a high kick," said study author Rosemary Joyce, an anthropologist at University of California, Berkeley.
"But it would not have tasted anything like the chocolate we have today."
Previous research on "chocolate teapots" dated chocolate drinks to about 2600 years ago.
Click this to read more about the history of chocolate.
Researchers at the Heinrich-Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany are proposing certain types of dark chocolate could serve as sunscreen. Their findings are preliminary due to a small test group but are very interesting or should I say delicious?!?
Twenty-four women ages 18 to 65 were recruited and participated by adding cocoa to their breakfast every day for about three months. Half the women received a powder packet containing 329 milligrams of flavanols per serving and the rest received packets containing 27 milligrams of flavanols per serving. The primary flavanols were epicatechin and catechin. A bevy of tests were conducted on each volunteer. Obviously, one test involved UV exposure.
Flavonoids are natural plant-based antioxidants. Through previous research, the German research team, deduced potent antioxidants (such as those found in certain types of chocolate) could shield skin from sun damage. Most flavonoids absorb UV light. However, research also suggests flavonoids reduce inflammatory agents (i.e. reducing skin reddening).
Unfortunately, the cocoa used in this study is not commercially available…yet. The cocoa used delivered only 50 calories per serving. Thus, regular consumption won’t “blimp” a person out.
In the June Journal of Nutrition it was reported women consuming high-flavonoid cocoa had 15 percent less skin reddening from UV light after 6 weeks of cocoa consumption and 25 percent less after 12 weeks of the trial. The test group that consumed flavonoid-rich cocoa exhibited less reddening compared to their flavonoid-poor counterparts. Women in the flavonoid-rich group also showed increased blood flow to the skin, increased skin thickness as well as increased moisture.
***So sweet tooth individuals, keep on the lookout for flavonoid-rich cocoa.