Confessions of a Dark Chocolate Snob

How to pick the REALLY good stuff:

IMG_4124For years I have been seeking out the very best in dark chocolate. What qualifies as “best” for me means that the stuff I buy is minimally-processed, containing very few ingredients. I set the bar high. If I see soy lecithin on the ingredients list, I keep on walking. Not that there’s anything bad about soy lecithin, per se (an emulsifier that is present in most chocolate bars); it’s just an indicator that the chocolate is more processed, meaning less antioxidants. Minimally-processed organic dark chocolate that has at least 70% cacao is considered a superfood (lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, protecting cells from free radicals) and the naturally occurring fat may also be beneficial to the heart.

In San Francisco there are so many varieties of the best dark chocolate available, some made right here in the city. You can go to the Ferry Building on any given day, and drop $9 on a gourmet bar, easy. Or even find sweet and steeply-priced choices at the grocery store. I don’t mind splurging now and then, but luckily for me there are also plenty of cheaper varieties to support my habit.

Whole Foods has a good bar for around $3. I noticed Trader Joe’s finally started carrying an organic 73% bar of their own brand. Here’s another affordable one that I like: Equal Exchange (I’m halfway through this bar pictured at right). Notice the front says “single origin” and “small farmer grown” – they also offer a wealth of source information on the inside of the label.Image 4

I can savor a good bar for a week – I’m usually content with one or two small squares (sometimes paired with red wine for a truly decadent dessert). In addition to this treat, I have started sprinkling a spoonful of raw cacao nibs on my morning granola – now here’s the REALLY good stuff: pure raw organic cacao. In reading the label, I was surprised by how much dietary fiber you get in one ounce: 36% daily value. It is also rich in iron and magnesium. Eating raw means 20 times the antioxidants of blueberries. Yes, pure cacao is bitter and hard, but when paired with something sweet it gives the perfect hint of chocolate flavor to whatever you are eating. And I like the crunch!

Image 5To sum up, the raw stuff is the best health-wise, though it may not be easy to find a true raw chocolate bar on the shelves of your local store. Cacao nibs, however, are readily available. The bars I’ve mentioned above are made from cacao beans that are roasted (much like coffee), yet there is very little else in the way of processing bean-to-bar and therefore they maintain most of their health benefits. Now that you know what to look for, you can fuel your dark chocolate passion and feel good about it, too. Happy hunting!

(It’s fun to hunt out the very best. If you come to SF, you can even tour an artisanal chocolate factory in the Mission.)

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