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Are organic chocolates good for health?

Organic Chocolates and dark chocolates are the buzz words among the health-conscious and for solid reasons!

There is no doubt that the roller-coaster ride of insecurities about health and well-being in 2020 has altered our approach to food and beverages. According to Mintel’s 2021 Global Food and Drink Trends, the consumer now prioritizes good health, responsibility toward the environment, and sustainability in every industry. Needless to say in a country that has reported a rising trend in chocolate consumption, the demand for healthier alternatives to conventional milk chocolates is also growing.

Luckily this space is not difficult to fill. Organic chocolate brands that have been around for a while are welcoming this new wave of attention they are receiving. Once perceived as a niche product targeting those with a distinct palate and deep pocket, craft chocolate makers are now happy to educate about organic chocolates and their related health benefits. But before you grab your bar of delicious goodness, let’s talk about this what this premium variety of your favourite sweet treat actually is, how it’s made, and where it comes from!

   i. What is organic chocolate?

When you use the beans from a cacao plant grown in the cleanest possible way. This basically means that no synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, or herbicides are implemented in these cacao plantations to give the fundamentals of organic chocolate. The principle of going chemical-free carries on to the ingredients that are added to the cacao in the subsequent stages of chocolate making. So, the sugar, milk, fruit inclusions, and spices – all are produced organically. However, the level of organicness is not standardized and varies within the 70% to 90% range. Chocolate lovers will be happy to know that organic chocolates come in most popular variation – white, milk, dark, and flavoured.

 ii. Brief background of organic chocolate in the culinary world

If you look at the prehistory of organic chocolates, you’ll have to go way back in time and across the globe to the lower Amazon basin. The natives there consumed cacao as a fruit and later as the South American plant made its way to southern Mexico, the focus of consumption moved to the bitter cacao beans. The next form after that chocolate took for consumption after the fruit and the seed was that of beverage, which was a big hit all over the continent through centuries. Chances are it was an accidental discovery during the process of brewing a type of beer popular known as chicha. The drink was reserved for the elite and even offered to gods during notable events. 

Chocolate or the cacao beverage made its way into Europe through Spain in the 1500s, where it was fused in a drink with sugar. The combination was a huge hit and the recipe entered the French court only after a century through a royal marriage alliance. It entered the list of favourites of the Dutch before plantations were set up in Africa. In fact, it wasn’t until 1819 that chocolates were started to be manufactured as edible chunks rather than a drink. 

iii. Typical process of making organic chocolate

Before reaching mass manufacturers, Cocoa beans are harvested mainly in tropical evergreen regions such as central and South America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia. Organic cocoa is also grown in India Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. Craft chocolate brands like RUSHK chocolates are known to use cacao beans for single-origin chocolates. The first step, therefore, is picking the right beans.

The second step in the process of making organic chocolates of superior quality is roasting the beans. This is done to bring out the flavour and colour of the cocoa. It also helps separate the shell of the beans from the nibs for winnowing, the next step in the process. The mobs pass through several sieves to group them according to their size.

Fourth, the cocoa nibs undergo grinding to churn out unsweetened chocolate or cocoa liquor from melted fat. The final process before the freshly made liquid chocolate is poured into a mould to set is tempering. The chocolate treated under high and low temperatures alternatively to stabilize its texture and prevent the chocolate bar from melting. 

iv. Health benefits of organic chocolate (compared to regular chocolates)

Research from the leading market intelligence agency Mintel made a prediction that the total value of the chocolate market would grow at a CAGR of close to 10% till 2023 from an estimated INR 172 billion marked in 2019. Chocolate makers are also aware of the recent developments in the health food sector that have made way for greater awareness of the health benefits of organic chocolate that have high cocoa content. To simplify it for the readers, the higher the cocoa concentration in a bar of chocolate, the more antioxidants it contains, and the better it is for you.  

To understand this better, let’s take a look at why regular chocolate available in the form of candies is bad for you. Mass-produced chocolates are crammed with hydrogenated fats, High fructose corn syrup, sugar, synthetic flavouring agents and stabilizers that lead to poor nutrition, weight gain, cavities, and other severe health complications. Yes, these include all your favourite brands that you’ve been seeing on television ads and munching on for the sugar hit. Not to mention the tonnes of pesticides that are used on the cacao plants that mass sell the beans to these chocolate giants at low costs.

However, switching to cocoa-rich organic chocolates which though slightly on the pricey side with a not-so-sweet taste drastically changes the game. Antioxidants present in raw cacao counter the detrimental effects of free radicals that attack human cells and frequently cause maladies such as Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and cancer. It is this antioxidant content that is compromised when cacao beans are processes using alkaline substances. 

Organic chocolates are a rich source of polyphenols as well that are known to fight cancer, and contain the substance three times more than does green tea and double that of red wine. Polyphenols also aid blood circulation since it dilates blood vessels and thus even prevents blood clots. 

And if dark chocolates are too bitter to suit your sweet tooth, craft chocolate brands are all too happy to introduce their range of interesting flavours with inclusions such as cinnamon and orange, cranberry, hazelnut, exotic mushrooms, spices and what not to distract you from the bitter taste of pure cacao.

Vegans too can join the bandwagon of organic chocolate-lovers given that there are variations that have completely chucked off dairy from their list of ingredients.

In conclusion, one can say …

It’s difficult to match a food that is as oversimplified and misinterpreted as chocolates. For the longest time, and as a direct result of mass media, the food of the Gods has been marketed as a sweet treat for children and perceived as the ultimate source of poor health in adults. But those who’ve dug a little deeper know that organic chocolate in its purest form has a plethora of health benefits that have given it its historic appeal. And like all things sinfully delicious, moderation is the key. 

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