Food

What goes into your chocolate bar

Not all chocolates are equals, especially in terms of health. Just check the back of your pack!

How dark is your dark chocolate? Chocolates are now being prescribed by the medical fraternity as a potential health food and nutrition source, but some facts about the chocolate that you currently consume might catch you by surprise.

In your pursuit of identifying and consuming good chocolate, you could do yourself a favour by just turning to the back of the pack and starting to read the ingredient list. It’s a habit that will help you note that not all chocolates are made equal.

Early signs

As per regulation, the ingredient which forms most of the chocolate should be listed first. In the case of milk chocolate, this is usually sugar: a standard mass market commercially-produced milk chocolate recipe (Indian or otherwise) includes close to 50% sugar. But then, so do most mass-produced dark cocoa chocolates in India. (They have as much as 50% cocoa content, but the balance 50% constitutes sugar). In contrast, a standard Mysore pak recipe has only 36% sugar.

The percentage of cacao usually highlighted on the front of the pack tells us how much of that bar consists of cacao. In a plain 70% dark cacao chocolate, most of the balance 30% is sugar. If you are looking at reducing your sugar intake, start with 70% dark cocoa chocolate and try to go further up on the percentage scale over time. Or simply consume home-made Indian sweets, ironically, a healthier option.

Most mass-produced chocolate is made by combining cocoa powder and some form of fat (cocoa butter or some permissible vegetable oil) along with ingredients like sugar, milk powder and a binding agent. There are cases where vegetable oils are used as partial or full replacements for cocoa butter and just mixed with cocoa powder instead. This type of chocolate is referred to as compound chocolate (or fake chocolates) and must use binding agents such as E476 (PGPR — polyglycerol polyricinoleate), which is an artificial castor oil-derived stabiliser. These additives help drive down overall product prices. In cases where only cocoa butter is used with pure cocoa beans (not cocoa powder) to make chocolate, natural binders like Genetically Modified Soy Lecithin (E322) are used to prevent separation of the fat. However, with the increasing awareness of Non-GMO food consumption and increasing soy allergies, soy lecithin is losing favour with manufacturers. Non-GMO Sunflower Lecithin seems like a natural alternative.

What goes into your chocolate bar

Read it right

The term ‘cocoa solids’ can be found under the ingredients list in most mass market chocolates. This is perhaps the most underestimated and misleading terminology in this subject.

To simplify: cocoa solids are a mixture of many substances that remain after cocoa butter is extracted from cacao beans, aka mainly cocoa powder. This is not pure chocolate. As long as it isn’t alkalised, cocoa powder includes flavonoids, which are antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Unfortunately, most mass market chocolates are made with alkalised cocoa powder.

With the addition of dairy into chocolate, the body’s ability to absorb antioxidants from cocoa is impaired. A milk chocolate can only remain a sugar-filled indulgence. Some prominent dark chocolates have milk in them and consumers still perceive them as dark with no milk.

You may now want to know which chocolate to pick to balance health benefits without compromising on flavour. You may further ask if all imported chocolates qualify to be in the ‘beneficial’ list. Are all Indian chocolates not good enough? Do all chocolates include these confusing and complex ingredients? The answer to all these questions is ‘no’. For the informed consumer, the new generation of bean-to-bar chocolate-makers are providing the answer to most of these questions via their skill. But even for your regular, mainstream brands, now you know what to watch out for. In the case of chocolate, less is more.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 9:37:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/what-goes-into-your-chocolate-bar/article25331122.ece

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