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A brief history of chocolate – and some of its surprising health benefits

https://theconversation.com/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-and-some-of-its-surprising-health-benefits-142692

theconversation.com

A brief history of chocolate – and some of its surprising health benefits
Cocoa may not be the panacea it was once believed to be, but it's more than just a guilty pleasure.

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The Aztec cocoa

The Aztec cocoa
  • The cocoa we know now is very different from the one that first arrived in Europe from South America (in the 16th century).
  • The Aztecs consumed cocoa as a drink and they believed it had great cultural and therapeutic value. They believed it could cure fever, diarrhoea, fatigue, angina and even tooth decay.
  • The cocoa was perceived as an elixir sent from Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of wind and wisdom.

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Cocoa comes to Europe

Cocoa comes to Europe
  • In 1518, Hernan Cortes, a Spanish soldier and explorer reached the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (in the territory that is now Mexico).
  • He and his men drank “chikolatl”, a bitter drink that contained roasted, crushed and then boiled (in water with spices and chilli) cocoa beans.
  • They did not like it, but they knew that the king of the Aztecs, Montezuma II, consumed the drink around 50 times a day. So Hernan Cortes understood the potential of cocoa and brought it back to Spain following his conquest.

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Chocolate: the taste we know today

Chocolate: the taste we know today
  • After they reached, Europe cocoa beans were crushed and mixed with honey and sugar, becoming a popular drink among the elites.
  • Joseph Fry and Sons made the first chocolate bar in the 19th century, creating what we know as chocolate today.

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Health benefits of chocolate

  • Dark chocolate and cocoa products containing at least 200mg of cocoa flavanols (bioactive compounds) can improve blood vessels elasticity, which helps with blood flow.
  • Consuming cocoa flavanols frequently boosts the ability of blood vessels’ to dilate or expand and this aids the body to regulate blood pressure and blood flow to organs.
  • Cocoa flavanols can also increase blood flow to the brain and this can improve cognitive performance.

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Not really good for your health

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The way coffee is prepared matters

  • Roasting reduces the number of chlorogenic acids, but other antioxidant compounds are formed.
  • Instant coffee may not have the same health benefits.
  • The oil in boiled coffee has cafestol and kahweol, compounds known to raise LDL, the bad cholesterol, and slightly lower HDL, the good cholesterol. However, the clinical significance of such small increases in cholesterol may be questionable.

Coffee and caffeine

  • A typical 12-ounce serving of drip coffee has 200 milligrams of caffeine.
  • Instant coffee has 140 milligrams of caffeine.
  • Espresso has the highest concentration of caffeine, 70 milligrams per one-ounce shot, but is consumed in smaller quantities.
  • Brewed decaf has caffeine too - about 8 milligrams.
  • Some people have a genetic variant that slows their metabolism for caffeine and keeps them awake deep into the night.

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Chocolates

Chocolates are everyone's favorite treat, and there is more to them than we know. Americans spend $21 Billion on chocolates every year, paying up to $55 for a single bar.

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Creating Chocolate

  • Cacao (or Cocoa) beans are the seeds that grow in the cacao tree, which are plucked, roasted and separated.
  • The 'nibs' from the beans (part solids and part butter) are ground and made into a paste, which is then again grounded with sugar and some other ingredients.
  • The industrial chocolates include several ingredients like vegetable oils, corn syrup, and artificial vanilla.

Bean-To-Bar

Authentic chocolate makers are like fine chefs and are obsessed about the texture, character and ethical origins of their beans.

Mainstream industrial chocolate makers buy all the beans, good or bad, in bulk, as they are mixing it with so many other ingredients and flavors, that the consumer won't get to know the difference of the beans.