If you go on almost any kind of diet, a recommended treat will be a square of dark chocolate. But what is the difference between a dark chocolate and milk chocolate – is it just milk, or is there something more to it? And why is dark chocolate said to be good for you, but you don’t ever hear anyone recommending a bar of plain Dairy Milk on a diet? What about white chocolate – is it even chocolate?
What is chocolate
Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, which comes from the cacao tree. The bean goes through processes to produce what is called chocolate liquor.
The chocolate liquor consists of cocoa solids (which can be used to make cocoa powder) and cocoa butter. Dried chocolate liquor is called cocoa mass. Chocolate liquor or cocoa mass is blended with more cocoa butter and other ingredients to make chocolate.
Dark chocolate has considerably more cocoa solids than milk chocolate. A good dark chocolate should have at least 70% cocoa solids. A good milk chocolate also contains milk powder and should have 30% cocoa solids. White chocolate only contains cocoa butter and no cocoa mass. Sugar is also added to sweeten the products.
In lower quality chocolate vegetable fats and oils will be used instead of cocoa butter. Vegetable fats are often chemically processed fats rather than natural fats like the cocoa butter.
I have two bars of chocolate here at home and am going to compare the ingredients. Remember that ingredients are listed in the order of largest proportion first:
This Green & Blacks bar contains the following:
Organic Cocoa Mass
Organic Raw Cane Sugar
Organic Cocoa Butter
Soya Lecithin – Emulsifier
Organic Vanilla Extract
Includes 70% cocoa solids
The chocolate in this Cadbury’s Caramel bar contains the following:
Includes 23% cocoa solids
Already I’m think I’m beginning to see which is the better product.
How is the nutritional value of chocolate determined?
All that information you see in the media about how chocolate is good for you – what basically underlies it is the nutritional value of the cocoa bean.
The cocoa bean is a high quality source of bioflavonoids, which provide strong antioxidant benefits, and may be good for cardiovascular health.
Antioxidants counter some of the harmful processes in the body caused by free radicals and oxidation. I won’t pretend to understand the detail of this, as I am not a biologist, but I understand free radicals = bad, antioxidants = good.
So to see how good for you chocolate is, the higher the cocoa content the better basically – hence dark chocolate is better for you than milk chocolate.
It is also better to eat a good quality chocolate than a mass produced bar, as you can see above, the general quality of ingredients is also a factor, particularly the fats.
None of these good factors in respect of chocolate have been quantified however, and as chocolate also contains sugar and other ingredients, it is generally advised to keep portion sizes small – a square or two after dinner two or three times a week in an ideal world.