Posted in Kafevend Blog

We've been concentrating on tea and coffee an awful lot recently, but with Easter upon us we thought it only right to look into something chocolatey for you to ponder. Today we are going to see what effects chocolate can have on our health- both positive and negative. You won't know whether to wolf down your Easter eggs, if you're lucky enough to get some on Sunday, or set them aside!

When figuring out what chocolate contains it's worth taking a quick look at how it is made in the first place, as this can have a major impact on the potential benefits and drawbacks of the resulting chocolate. Back in 1828, a Dutchman by the name of Casparus van Houten Sr. created a machine that pressed cocoa nibs and separated them into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. This meant that drinks were more easily made with the solids, but it also led to perhaps the first modern chocolate bars. By mixing the solids with sugar and then recombining this with the butter, it was possible to create chocolate not far removed from what we enjoy today.

When it comes to the subject of health, the solids contain the more important bits, whilst the butter is made up of vegetable fats, which although are not strictly bad, when combined with the sugar added in certain types of chocolate, certainly won't do you much good when you're scoffing it down. This is why dark chocolate is normally touted as the healthiest of chocolate varieties, with lower levels of added sugar and cocoa butter and higher amounts of cocoa solids, though it would probably be healthier if you just didn't eat any at all!

One of the main reasons for the touted health benefits of chocolate are the presence of polyphenols, particularly flavanols and flavonoids, source of such buzzwords as antioxidants, and their potential effect on us. It's important to note at this point that many of the health claims have yet to be conclusively established. Much more research needs to be carried out before various governmental food organisations will be happy to give the thumbs up to companies' marketing departments, some of whom have got into hot water with these organisations for being a little liberal with the truth.

In the event that research does give antioxidants the all clear, people like professor Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa will be on hand to make sure there are plenty to go around. With his team at the University of Ghana, they have been looking at how the production techniques involved in making chocolate can be altered to preserve more antioxidants. Their first discovery was that by adding a week long storage stage before the beans are fermented, more antioxidants were preserved after roasting, compared to either no storage at all, or three, or ten days of storage. Their other discovery was to do with the roasting itself. By roasting for a longer time but at a lower temperature, they found more antioxidants were preserved compared to the traditional time and temperature used.

Perhaps a sensible suggestion would be that whilst we shouldn't feel guilty about eating chocolate- particularly as we approach Easter and its inevitable influx- it's worth bearing in mind that it is a treat and moderation is key!

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