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Not all chocolates are equal. Some may be better than others for you writes Meera Murugesan

THERE’S something about chocolate that gets everyone excited. It’s the one treat that has universal appeal.

The history of chocolate can be traced back to the Mayan civilisation. The ancient Aztecs meanwhile placed such a high value on chocolate that they even used cacao beans as currency.

Closer to home, Benns Chocolate Factory Sdn Bhd launched its open concept chocolate factory and cafe in December last year.

The factory produces the artisanal bean-to-bar brand Benns Ethicoa and promotes the concept of ethical and natural chocolate making.

Benns Chocolate executive director Wilfred Ng shares some insight into chocolate making and the health benefits of this all-time favourite treat:

WHAT IS NATURAL CHOCOLATE-MAKING?

For Benns Ethicoa, we use only three ingredients to make chocolate: cacao nibs, cocoa butter and raw cane sugar. All are natural ingredients without flavouring, colouring or preservatives. We also adopt traditional manufacturing methods so we can control every step of the process for optimal results.

Fresh chocolate for tasting during factory tours at Benns.

WHAT DOES BEAN-TO-BAR MEAN?

It’s known as a craft movement. It’s about making chocolate in small batches from cacao bean to chocolate bar.

There are three basic principles in the bean-to-bar movement:

• Dealing directly with farmers and ensuring they are fairly paid for their produce, in addition to no child labour.

• Aiming to bring out the natural taste of each cacao origin in chocolate as land, climate and everything surrounding it affects flavour.

• Buying only high quality cacao beans because quality is essential to good-tasting chocolate.

HOW MUCH CACAO IS CONTAINED IN BENNS’ PRODUCTS?

All our chocolate bars have a 72 per cent cacao content. It is a healthy choice for chocolates. We also have products like cacao tea and cacao nibs, which are 100 per cent cacao.

Fermented and dried cacao beans ready for chocolate making.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHOCOLATE?

There are, in general, three types of chocolate (excluding ruby): dark, milk and white chocolate.

Dark chocolate, being the healthier choice among all, has a higher cacao content (typically 60 per cent and above), has no milk added and less sugar. With a higher cacao content, it means you get more of the goodness from cacao.

Milk chocolate contains milk ingredients and is often sweeter.

White chocolate is technically not chocolate as the only cacao content is cocoa butter (cacao fat). The rest is made up of sugar and milk.

IS CHOCOLATE BAD FOR HEALTH?

Manufacturers have been adding more sugar, flavours, colouring and preservatives to make chocolate sweeter, tastier and more appealing to children.

Dark chocolate with a lesser sugar content is naturally a healthier choice for chocolate lovers.

Benefits include high antioxidants, magnesium, calcium, fibre and natural bliss chemicals that alleviate depression.

However, that doesn’t mean we can overeat or replace it with other nutritious foods in our diet. Dark chocolate should be taken as part of a balanced diet.

A variety of chocolate products are produced at the factory.

HOW CAN WE INCLUDE CHOCOLATE INTO OUR DIET IN A HEALTHY MANNER?

We recommend no more than 65g of 70 per cent natural dark chocolate a day.

Avoid dark chocolate that has been alkalised and contains added flavouring, preservatives and colouring.

My favourite is to include cacao nibs into your daily diet. Cacao nibs are the natural form of chocolate with no sugar and are also known as 100 per cent natural chocolate.

It’s a superfood packed with antioxidants and natural minerals. Sprinkle it over your ice cream, salads, granola or just eat it raw. A spoonful a day is great!

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A HEALTHY CHOICE

DARK chocolate may have a bitter taste that doesn’t appeal to everyone but it certainly fits in well with those pursuing a healthy lifestyle.

It is loaded with antioxidants with some studies even suggesting that the antioxidant content may exceed those of acai berries, a known superfood.

Other studies have indicated its role in helping to lower blood pressure and reduce insulin resistance which is a known risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

Dark chocolate also contains polyphenols and theobromine that may reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL is often referred to as “bad cholesterol” and HDL as “good cholesterol”.

Dark chocolate also contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce inflammation.

In a 2018 study, researchers discovered that consuming 30g of 84 per cent dark chocolate each day for eight weeks can significantly reduce inflammatory biomarkers in people with type 2 diabetes.

Dark chocolate is also considered brain food. A study in 2016 identified a positive correlation between regular consumption of chocolate and cognitive performance.

Consuming dark chocolate is believed to improve brain function and play a role in reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Our love affair with chocolate will never end. Picture: Designed by jcomp / Freepik.

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