Wednesday, January 18, 2006
It’s been known for a while that dark chocolate and cocoa contain high levels of flavinoids, which are antioxidant compounds found in many food products like red wine and berries. These flavinoids are thought to be beneficial to cardiovascular health.
The compound in cocoa was isolated through by a team at the University of California, Davis using the Kuna Indians of Panama who are known to consume large quantities of cocoa.
UC Davis biochemist Hagen Schroeter, who co-authored the paper along with cardiologist Christian Heiss of the Heinrich-Heine University said “The results of this study provide direct proof that epicatechin is, at least in part, responsible for the beneficial vascular effects that are observed after the consumption of certain flavanol-rich cocoas.”
The article is pretty interesting and details how they isolated epicatechin using two different populations of Kunas. The most intriguing part is that the Kuna who had the best cardiovascular health were the island-dwellers who drank three to four cups per day!
Full text here: Heart-Healthy Compound in Chocolate Identified
Mars (makers of M&Ms) contributed to the financing of the study.
See also: Why Chocolate is Good for Your Heart from the Hindustani Times.
There are a lot of good things about chocolate. It tastes good and in moderation it could actually be a good addition to a normal diet. But one of the suprising things is that chocolate may actually be good for tropical economies and ecosystems as well. See more here.
There are quite a few free trade/organic chocolate companies now, but one that’s making the best inroads with consumers, including kids, is Endangered Species Chocolate Company. (I have no data to back this up, just my awareness of people’s affection for it and that I see it in far more stores than other bars of the same type.) They have a huge selection of bars and chocolate formats, good packaging and a pretty good distribution network. Oh, and they taste good, too!
Because Endangered Species has such a large selection of bars, I thought I’d start small. I saw these little impulsive tasting squares called Bug Bites that came in both dark and milk chocolate. They’re obviously a little bit of chocolate for the kids, but I’m a kid at heart and I love bugs.
The little .35 ounce squares are Fair Trade certified, organic and Kosher. The little nibble has a butterfly on it and though the package says something about a bug trading card, I didn’t get any in either of my packages. The milk chocolate is very sweet and in the style of the European dairy milk chocolate bars. It has a good milky, woodsy smell, but is probably too sweet for me. It’s exceptionally smooth and I’m sure will please children quite readily.
The dark square was exceptional. Very fruity, with some apricot and cherry notes it also had some woodsy balsam qualities. It was buttery and had a slightly bitter finish that wasn’t too dry.
Though not all the bars are completely Fair Trade or completely organic Endangered Species Chocolate Company donates 10% of profits to protect wildlife (including those animals featured on the bars). Inside the wrapper is a profile of the animal on the package, in this case it is the bat and notes that of the 45 species in the United States alone, 7 of them are endangered.
I was specifically looking for this “Bat Bar” which is 75% cocoa content and cocoa nibs. I hadn’t seen it at Whole Foods, where I’ve been picking up my other organic bars. Whereas the other nibby products I’ve tried like the Michel Cluizel Noir au Grue de Cacao and Max Brenner Dark Chicao have large nib pieces in them, this bar had kind of crushed bits in it. This has its advantages, but it also creates a different sort of bar.
First, this is a very dark bar. At 75% cocoa, it’s already pretty dense. Because the nibs are crushed smaller they impart a bit of a grain to the chocolate that I didn’t detect at all in the Bug Bites, so I’ll credit that to the nibs. The nibs add a wonderful variation in texture though, with a good fruity burst in spots and sometimes and unpleasant astringency. Nibs are pretty high in fiber too, so eating a serving gives you 3 grams of fiber! I wish the entire bar wasn’t quite so sweet though.
I think if I’m going for a nibby fix I’m going to stick with the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs ... but the wide availability and decent price of the Engangered Species bar would make it a close second.
Theobroma cacao, the cocoa plant, is a rather strange thing. The pods that produce cocoa beans grow on strange trees in the tropical and sub-tropical jungles of North and South America and have been successfully cultivated all over the middle of the planet since the discovery of the New World.
Like coffee, cocoa wants to grow in the shade. The cocoa trees are rather squat and unassuming looking and need the tall canopy of the larger trees. What this means to the jungle ecosystem is that a cocoa plantation looks suspiciously like a jungle ... tall trees, a good deal of leaf litter on the ground and of course a good variety of critters to keep the cocoa plants pollinated. Plant cocoa trees too close together and you’re asking for diseases and of course it exhausts the already weak soils of the rain forest so you’d be obliged to fertilize.
A properly balanced cocoa plantation can be relatively manageable with a good hands-off approach. Maintain the trees, control disease quickly by removing infested trees and you can have a sustainable crop that keeps the rain forest intact for generations to come. The tall hardwood trees of the canopy can be sustainably harvested as well and other fruit trees can be planted as well. Birds and beasts can thrive along with the jungle as a whole and the humans merely as caretakers. It’s a Utopian ideal, and with the help of Fair Trade and other small scale cooperative initiatives that support the future of the forests means we can have our chocolate cake and eat it, too.
There’s no reason that reasonably priced chocolate can’t be produced from cacao grown in a sustainable fashion that preserves the local ecosystem and the local people’s autonomy. In fact, the future of the tropical regions may depend on global demand for agricultural products like coffee and cocoa that can be grown this way. At the moment the solution is not to buy more chocolate but to make an effort to support those chocolate products that work with farmer co-ops, operate under Fair Trade policies and of course support sustainable agriculture.
You can read more about these projects and the theories behind sustainable cocoa plantations here:
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Sometimes I wish that candies were made in different flavors. Like, I used to wish that Starbursts came in cinnamon, mint and licorice flavors.
It turns out that product already exists. BlackJack is a licorice (actually anise) flavored chew that’s made in the shape of little square pieces that are sold in a roll.
What was dissapointing about them is that they’re slightly tart. I’d expected a smooth, sweet and spicy chew filled with licorice goodness. Instead it’s slightly lemony (citric acid is in the ingredients), with a tart bite and not much of a licorice flavor to it. It smells a lot like anise, but doesn’t really deliver. I like the combination of licorice and lemon, which is done really well in the Lemon Lakritsi from Finland.
Bassett’s, now owned by UK candy giant Cadbury, is well known for their Allsorts, and I was hoping this was a pocket version of them. They may just take some getting used to, but I’ve had this pack for quite a while and after eating about three of them, I have no desire to continue trying to like them. I’m sure they have their fans, but I don’t think I’ll ever be among them.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:42 am
Monday, January 16, 2006
I love Pocky. I’ve tried regular Chocolate Pocky and even Green Tea Pocky, but I hadn’t tried this one, called Men’s Pocky. I’m not sure why it’s called Men’s Pocky, but I’ve heard that it’s because it’s not as sweet as regular chocolate Pocky.
What is Pocky? It’s an unsalted pretzel/biscuit stick covered with chocolate. Simple, crunchy, sweet and smooth.
It’s really a simple candy, or perhaps it’s a snack. I don’t care what you call it, it’s good. The pretzel base is crunchy and actually rather bland with has a wonderful consistent crisp to it that stands up to the chocolate. The chocolate is smooth and sweet with a hint of dry bitterness. Unlike the regular Pocky that I tried, this one has far less trans fatty acids (.5 grams for half the box). Of course there’s also 5 grams of protein in each serving.
The snack is a pretty good value as imported candy goes - it’s a 100 gram box and I picked it up at regular price at Mitsuwa for $1.59. In fact, I found it hard to eat a full serving of it. The box has two pouches in it and the box protects the long sticks from getting broken. In fact, this is my fourth box of Pocky and I’ve never had a broken one.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:50 am
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.