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The chemistry of chocolate

Chocolate sometimes gets a bad rap in the health department, but a new book claims it is chock-full of things that are good for us.
LORENA D. JOHNSON, Special to The Free Press   2003-06-04 03:22:40  

The term chocoholic, like alcoholic, implies that eating chocolate is bad for you. But that's not the finding of A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Doctor Away, a new book by Dr. John Ashton and Suzy Ashton (St. Martin's Press).

Ranking up there with blueberries, red wine and green tea, chocolate is also jam-packed with cancer-fighting, heart-protecting and age-slowing anti-oxidants.

"Chocolate can be part of a lifestyle that gives us beauty, energy, longevity and a reduced risk of disease," Suzy Ashton writes in the introduction.

But she cautions, "Before . . . you rush to buy a month's supply of chocolate," understand that all chocolate is not created equal. And realize, only 50 grams (less weight than most chocolate bars) is recommended daily.

Compound chocolate, an inexpensive version containing hydrogentated vegetable oils mixed with cocoa butter, is "best left on the shelf."

But higher-quality chocolate, teeming with oleic acid (found in olive oil), doesn't raise people's cholesterol and might even contribute to increased anti-oxidant activity.

The authors even say that chocolate might help you lose weight when compared with other snack foods such as doughnuts, muffins or chips. That's because you'll need more total calories of the other snacks to fill you up than the chocolate, the Ashtons conclude.

The book's findings mirror a recent Journal of the American Dietetic Association report.

It found the flavonoids in chocolate are associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. The report also states chocolate is a good source of potassium, magnesium, copper and calcium.

Evidently, we are not the first to recognize the potential health benefits of chocolate.

Europeans living in the 17th century viewed chocolate as having a healing power. It was believed chocolate "comforted the liver, aided in digestion and made one happy and strong."

It was also used to treat anemia, tuberculosis, fever and gout. And chocolate was viewed as a way to strengthen the heart.

Romantics suggest something in chocolate makes us feel "like we're in love." Although there is little strong science, some people feel chocolate may raise levels of chemicals in our brain that can help elevate moods.

In science or in sheer enjoyment, chocolate is tops.

Imagine "feeling the chocolate melt on the palate of our mouths and savouring many of the delicious, subtle, fine flavours that chocolate has to offer" -- without all the guilt and remorse, the Ashtons write.

And while you're indulging, minerals are being stockpiled and you're priming your body to fight heart disease and cancer.

Bring on the chocolate.


(Makes 24)

1/2 c. (125 ml) butter, softened

2 squares (1 oz./30 g) unsweetened chocolate

1/2 c. (125 ml) raspberry jam

1/2 c. (125 ml) packed brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 tsp. (2 ml) vanilla

3/4 c. (175 ml) all-purpose flour

1/2 c. (125 ml) chopped walnuts

1. In medium glass bowl or saucepan, melt butter and chocolate. Press jam through sieve to remove seeds. Stir jam and sugar into chocolate mixture until well blended. Stir in eggs and vanilla until well combined. Stir in flour and walnuts.

2. Grease or spray mini-tart pans well with cooking spray. Spoon in batter, filling to top. Bake in 350 F (180 C) oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until tops start to crack and tester comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes in pan; remove and cool completely on wire rack. Repeat with remaining batter.

- Source: California Walnuts


(Makes 48)

1 c. (250 ml) all-purpose flour

1/2 c. (125 ml) cocoa, sifted

1 tbsp. (15 ml) instant yeast

1/4 c. (60 ml) sugar

1 tsp. (5 ml) salt

1 1/3 c. (325 ml) very warm water

1/4 c. (60 ml) cooking oil

1 large egg

2 1/2 c. (625 ml) all-purpose flour (approximately)


6 tbsp. (90 ml) hard margarine, softened

1 c. (250 ml) brown sugar, packed

2 tbsp. (30 ml) ground cinnamon


1 1/2 c. (375 ml) icing sugar

1/4 c. (60 ml) hard margarine, softened

3 tbsp. (45 ml) milk or water

1/2 tsp. (2 ml) vanilla

1. Measure first five ingredients into large bowl. Stir. Make a well.

2. Place water, cooking oil and egg into well. Beat on low to moisten. Beat on medium for about two minutes or until smooth.

3. Work in enough remaining flour until dough leaves sides of the bowl. Knead on lightly floured surface for five to seven minutes until smooth and elastic. Divide dough into four equal portions. Roll one portion at a time into a rectangle 1/8-in. (0.3-cm) thick and 9 by 12 in. (23 by 30 cm).

For the filling

1. Spread each rectangle with 1 1/2 tbsp. (22 ml) of margarine. Sprinkle with 1/4 c. (60 ml) brown sugar and 1 1/2 tsp. (7 ml) cinnamon. Roll up from long side like jelly roll. Cut into 1-in. (2.5-cm) slices.

2. Place 24 slices, cut side down, in each of two greased 9- by 13-in. (23- by 33-cm) pans about 1/4- 1/2 in. (0.6-1.2 cm) apart. Cover with tea towel. Let stand in oven with light on and door closed for about one hour until doubled in size.

3. Bake in 375 F (190 C) oven for 20-25 minutes. Turn out, bottom side up, onto rack to cool.

4. For the icing: Beat all four ingredients together in a small bowl, adding more icing sugar or milk to make a thin glaze. Invert buns. Drizzle with icing.

- Source: Chocolate Everything by Jean Pare (Company's Coming)


- A source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, copper and manganese

- Made from beans from the cacao tree, which is native to Central and South America; the trees now grow around the world in countries such as Mexico, Ghana, Brazil, the Philippines and Hawaii

- Cocoa beans are still harvested and separated by hand. The flavour is developed by fermentation and then a roasting stage before they are hulled and turned into a paste also referred to as chocolate liquor.

- Presence of a phytochemical, phenylethylamine, creates a stimulating effect on the brain resulting in euphoria. This chemical release also occurs when people are in love.

- Contains caffeine, but a much lower level than coffee, tea and cola; a cup of hot chocolate has the same amount as a cup of decaffeinated coffee.

- Quality dark chocolate is generally 30 per cent sugar, 70 per cent chocolate liquor (including 30 per cent cocoa butter), lecithin and pure vanilla.

- Source: A Chocolate a Day Keeps the Doctor Away by Dr. John Ashton and Suzy Ashton (St. Martin's Press)

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