If you want to treat your sweetheart this Valentine's Day, you can never go wrong with chocolate.
The best chocolate is dark chocolate, made from cacao beans, one of the richest natural sources of antioxidants.
Cacao beans are roasted, fermented and crushed to make chocolate liquor, which is separated into cocoa butter and cocoa mass, which is crushed into cocoa powder. These components, in varying amounts, are used to make chocolate.
Not all chocolate is good for you and the ingredients make all the difference. The best bars have a high cocoa content, because it’s the cocoa powder that contains healthy polyphenols, flavonols, proanthocyanidins, and catechins shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke and cancer.
Follow these guidelines to select the healthiest chocolate:
1. Avoid white chocolate. It doesn’t contain any cocoa powder at all.
2. Avoid milk chocolate. It contains less cocoa powder and more sugar than dark varieties.
3. Even dark chocolate contains some sugar, but it should be one of the last ingredients. Look for products that list cocoa powder, cocoa mass, chocolate liquor and/or cocoa butter before sugar.
4. The only fat should be cocoa butter.
5. Look for chocolate that is 70% to 85% dark. The darker the chocolate, the higher the concentration of cocoa powder and flavonols (and the more bitter the flavor).
6. Avoid chocolate that contains Dutch-process or alkalinized cocoa powder. It is made from cacao beans that have been treated with an alkalizing agent to neutralize natural acidity. Some manufacturers favor Dutch-process or alkalinized cocoa powder because it is more soluble, milder in flavor and darker in color. However, alkalizing agents destroy healthy antioxidants, so always opt for chocolate made with natural unsweetened cocoa powder instead.
7. Avoid products that contain agave, artificial sweeteners, corn syrup, vegetable oil, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated ingredients of any kind, and anything you can’t pronounce or easily identify.
Enjoy dark chocolate by itself, pair it with red wine, or use it to make a special dessert like my Dreamy Dark Chocolate Mi-Cuits.