Dark chocolate. Think rich, bitter, melt-in-your-mouth smooth chocolate, the perfect mood enhancer, pick-me-up or post-dinner treat.
Eating dark chocolate might taste and feel good. But what are the benefits of eating dark chocolate?
What is Dark Chocolate?
Dark chocolate is a bitter chocolate, typically containing 50-100% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. The percentage of cocoa affects the flavour and bitterness. Most brands contain 70%, 85% or 90% cocoa, but generally speaking the higher the cocoa percentage, the better the health benefits and the better the quality.
How to Choose a Good Dark Chocolate?
When selecting a bar of dark chocolate, there are a few simple pointers to look out for, from bean origin to roast temperature and a clean snapping noise when you break a bar.
1. Cacao Percentage
Dark chocolate only needs to contain 35% cacao to be classified as a dark chocolate, but look out for a higher percentage of cacao, at least 70 percent, and natural ingredients.
2. Bean Origin
Check where the cocoa beans come from in your bar. Much like coffee, cocoa beans give the chocolate its flavour profile, from subtle vanilla notes, to stronger espresso and burned sugar.
Look out for fair trade or organic certified bars, that add a level of credibility to the traceability of the bar back to the producer.
Roasting the cocoa nibs at a lower temperature can bring out the unique toasted notes of the cocoa bean. Beans roasted quickly at a higher temperature can leave a burnt aftertaste.
4. All in the Grind
Finely ground chocolate melts more evenly creating a more rounded and robust flavour. Poorer quality chocolate has a coarser grind and the particles will be noticeable on the palate which also means it will melt unevenly.
5. Smooth and Glossy
If the chocolate has been tempered properly it will appear glossy with a smooth, glossy finish without being overly shiny or matt – and each piece will break off with a clean snap.
Watch the snap test in action in the video clip below:
The Benefits of Dark Chocolate
What is it in dark chocolate that might be beneficial?
Cocoa contains compounds called flavanols which are extremely potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, with known mechanisms beneficial for brain and cardiovascular health.
Dark chocolate is also naturally high in iron, magnesium, copper and manganese.
Check out this infographic on the health benefits of eating dark chocolate from Squaredmile.
What does the research say?
Research linked to the potential health benefits of cocoa flavanols is wide ranging, from heart and gut health, to improved blood pressure and brain function. While there have been some promising findings suggesting that cocoa flavanols can benefit markers of heart health (such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol), evidence relating to other health benefits is limited.
One study in 2011 showed that cocoa and dark chocolate had more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than some 'super fruits', like blueberries and pomegranates.
Another study demonstrated that flavanols may offer a potential anti-inflammatory effect in digestive issues such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Interestingly, other research has also shown that eating dark chocolate may help improve productivity.
How Much Dark Chocolate is a Good Thing?
Dark chocolate is high in saturated fat and sugar and best enjoyed as an occasional treat, as part of a balanced diet. Around 20g of dark chocolate, or two large squares, is a normal portion size.
Cooking with Dark Chocolate
Harness those sweet and bitter notes of dark chocolate in your baking with our selection of dark chocolate cake recipes, from sachertorte to molten-hot chocolate cakes. It's time to go to the dark side.