Chocolate. Nature’s Miracle Resource

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One of mother nature’s greatest gifts to mankind is chocolate. It is versatile and powerful, healthy and impactful. It can be used as a sauce, a dessert, or as a meal replacement. It is low in sugar and contains antioxidants and wonderful micronutrients. I’m not talking about chocolate products like candy or mochas. I’m talking about raw chocolate, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, or chocolate bars with 75% or more cocoa content. Chocolate is a great way to get your dessert without busting your diet. But first, lets learn more about chocolate.

The History of Chocolate

Chocolate’s 4,000-year history began in ancient Mesoamerica, present day Mexico. It’s here that the first cacao plants were found. The Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, were the first to turn the cacao plant into chocolate. They drank their chocolate during rituals and used it as medicine.

Centuries later, the Mayans praised chocolate as the drink of the gods. Mayan chocolate was a revered brew made of roasted and ground cacao seeds mixed with chillies, water and cornmeal. Mayans poured this mixture from one pot to another, creating a thick foamy beverage called “xocolatl”, meaning “bitter water.”

By the 15th century, the Aztecs used cocoa seeds (cocoa beans are actually seeds) as currency. They believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and drank it as a refreshing beverage, an aphrodisiac, and even to prepare for war.

No one knows for sure when chocolate came to Spain. Legend has it that explorer Hernán Cortés brought chocolate to his homeland in 1528.

Cortés was believed to have discovered chocolate during an expedition to the Americas. In search of gold and riches, he instead found a cup of cocoa given to him by the Aztec emperor.

When Cortés returned home, he introduced cocoa seeds to the Spanish. Though still served as a drink, Spanish chocolate was mixed with sugar and honey to sweeten the naturally bitter taste.

Chocolate quickly became popular among the rich and wealthy. Even Catholic monks loved chocolate and drank it to aid religious practices.

The Spanish kept chocolate quiet for a very long time. It was nearly a century before the treat reached neighboring France, and then the rest of Europe.

In 1615, French King Louis XIII married Anne of Austria, daughter of Spanish King Phillip III. To celebrate the union, she brought samples of chocolate to the royal courts of France.

Following France’s lead, chocolate soon appeared in Britain at special “chocolate houses”. As the trend spread through Europe, many nations set up their own cacao plantations in countries along the equator.

The history of chocolate continues as the treat remained immensely popular among European aristocracy. Royals and the upper classes consumed chocolate for its health benefits as well as its decadence.

Chocolate was still being produced by hand, which was a slow and laborious process. But with the Industrial Revolution around the corner, things were about to change.

In 1828, the invention of the chocolate press revolutionized chocolate making. This innovative device could squeeze cocoa butter from roasted cacao beans, leaving a fine cocoa powder behind.

The powder was then mixed with liquids and poured into a mold, where it solidified into an edible bar of chocolate.

And just like that, the modern era of chocolate was born.1

How Chocolate is Prepared

Chocolate can be prepared as cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, or as a bar. It all starts with a cocoa pod from a cocoa tree. The fruits are removed from the pod and are then fermented.

Fermentation is a natural chemical process in which yeast, bacteria, or other microorganisms break down the sugar in the pulp into acidic compounds such as vinegar. The fermentation process is vital to the creation of chocolate, because it triggers chemical changes that help the beans develop their chocolate flavor.

Fermentation generates heat, causing the temperature within the pile of cacao beans to reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit or more. The heat, in turn, kills the germ of the bean (the part that would sprout and develop into a new plant) and liquefies the pulpy residue, which then just drains away.

The heat also activates certain enzymes in the beans that tame their bitterness, form compounds that contribute to the chocolate flavor, and give the beans a brown color. Milder beans (such as the criollo variety) typically need to be fermented for only about three days, while more bitter beans (including forasteros) may require six to nine days of fermentation. Inadequate or interrupted fermentation prevents the development of true chocolate flavor. When the cacao beans finally turn brown, they are ready to be dried.2

 The beans are then dried and can be separated into their constituent components, the shell, the butter, the nib, and the powder. The nibs are then combined with sugar and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is a type of fat that comes from the cocoa bean. Cocoa butter is only used in chocolate bars, not in cocoa nibs or cocoa powder.

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Chocolate contains minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. It also contains antioxidants called flavonoids. The antioxidants in chocolate might help prevent:

  • Eye disease
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Memory loss
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer

And it also might improve:

  • Blood pressure
  • Weight loss
  • Cognition
  • Mood
  • Skin
  • Cholesterol
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Brain function3,4

Cocoa butter is a great reinforcer (fat). It can be mixed with cocoa powder to make your own chocolate bars without all the sugar. Just melt cocoa butter and mix in cocoa powder, pour into a mold and place in freezer until sets. Or blend it into your cocoa smoothie.

In addition to Cocoa Butter, unsweetened cocoa powder is one of the best reinforcers (protein and fiber). It is a wonderful source of fiber value and protein value and pairs nicely with aqueous resources like water or milk. Mix or blend 3 tablespoons of powder with 2 cups of water or almond milk for a tasty and nutritious smoothy or hot chocolate.

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Author: T Ross

I spent the first part of my life playing piano and composing music. I graduated from UCLA with a degree in music composition and cognitive science. Then I became a User Interface Engineer for four years. I moved home to Raleigh, NC to be closer to my family and began to freelance. On the side, I created a company called Elemental Nutrition & Wellness that uses interactive resource calculators to give people the tools they need to lose weight and boost nutrition. Now I have my own practice as a holistic nutritionist. I help people meet their weight loss goals by fostering self-motivation. You can reach me at

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