These days, dark chocolate is really popular. It used to be sold only at specialized chocolate shops or health food stores, but nowadays, you can find it at any supermarket or drugstore. This is because recent scientific research has suggested that dark chocolate helps prevent heart problems, cancers, and other possible illnesses. Since we used to think eating chocolate was bad for our health, this is great news!
Well, this is not quite true. We often remember only the positive details and ignore the negative things when we hear “good” news. It is true that cacao beans, from which all chocolate is made, contain very high levels of anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals, and are very high in beneficial amino acids. It is also true that dark chocolate is much better than milk chocolate, since milk protein breaks down some of the most useful chemicals in the chocolate.
However, this is only the half of the story. Chocolate still contains a high amount of saturated fat and is very high in calories. Also, if you are not eating organic chocolate, you may be ingesting tons of pesticides and fungicides, etc. Further, if they are not organically grown, the cacao beans cannot get enough nutrients and, as a consequence, the chocolate does not have the high amounts of minerals as it was advertised. Even if the cacao beans contained enough anti-oxidants and helpful amino acids when they were harvested, it is likely that they got broken down when they were heated up in the process of manufacturing the chocolate. Oh, well; that old adage of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” applies here, too.
However, there is still a way to get all the health benefits of cacao: eat raw organic cacao beans! You can find them at almost any health food store. They look like almonds, but if you peel off the skins, you will see the dark, “chocolate”-color bean inside. People actually eat them raw, just like this, and enjoy the taste. I would say that it is more of an acquired taste, but it is addictive since it can really give you a natural high (remember cacao beans contain a high amount of caffeine, too). If you do not want to eat the skins and you do not want to have to peel the beans, you can also get cacao nibs, which are just the same as the raw bean, but with skin removed and the bean broken into smaller pieces.
Although cacao beans and cacao nibs have that great chocolate flavor, you should think of them as a slightly different sort of food. When we think of chocolate, we always associate it with a smooth and silky texture. Unfortunately, cacao beans and cacao nibs do not give you that silky-smooth satisfaction — they remain in your mouth as bitter grit-like pieces. What a cacao bean lover can do is to chew one bean for a long time so that it gets smoother. This is actually good since saliva makes the cacao bean’s chemicals much easier to digest in the stomach. And yes, this means you get more benefit out of the bean.
If you really cannot handle the grainy texture you get from chewing the whole bean, then you can make a cacao paste using a grinder, and mix it with something—with hot water to make a chocolate drink, for example. You can also try mixing with honey to make a ganache (without milk!), or with soy ice cream to make chocolate ice “cream.”
In any case, give the cacao beans a try. You may find that you get the same satisfaction from one cacao bean as you get from eating an entire chocolate bar!