Chocolate: No denying it’s good

For many people, chocolate is considered a sinful pleasure. British research found that if eating chocolate was thought to be an indulgent activity, then the pleasure was short-lived and tinged with feelings of guilt. But chocolate wasn’t always a forbidden treat. Thousands of years ago, it was worshipped by the Mayans as an idol – in the true religious sense – not in the gastronomic one. ‘Food of the gods’ is a translation of Theobroma cacao, the scientific name for the cacao tree which bears the bean from which chocolate originates.

It was also used as currency. And when Christopher Columbus brought it back to Europe from the Americas, its use spread among the aristocracy as a beverage. Once the pleasure of chocolate was revealed to the masses, there was no turning back.

Chocolate imposters
Nowadays, the variety of chocolate available in the marketplace is staggering. Many offerings look like chocolate, but according to the ingredient list, bear little resemblance to the real thing. Sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oils predominate over the cocoa and cocoa butter.

From a taste and nutrition point of view, there is a substanti difference between true chocolate and ‘imposters.’ Many of these chocolate impostors provide the same amount of fat and calories, as the real thing, about 140 to 160 calories and 10 to 15 grams of fat per ounce.

Certainly the effect of the fat found in chocolate on blood cholesterol remain somewhat controversial. But the true product may indeed provide some health benefits. Research shows that chocolate contains similar antioxidants to those found in red wine, apples, onions and tea. However, waist watchers shouldn’t eat chocolate just for the health of it.

Cravings triggered
Chocolate cravings may be a signal of imbalanced eating. Skipping meals or eating skimpy meals through the early part of the day (breakfast and lunch) can often trigger cravings for chocolate. If you tend to overeat when there is chocolate around, learning how to indulge can be an invaluable lesson.

The first step is to purchase your favourite kind. For milk chocolate lovers, opting for a dark or bittersweet truffle won’t hit the spot. When was the last time you made your selection from a boxful of chocolates, found it wasn’t your favourite and didn’t go back for another? Instead, be discerning and your choice will hit the spot.

Cocoa for baking
There are also ways of enjoying the taste of chocolate on a more regular basis without the glut of fat. 

  • Cocoa powder, which has had most of the cocoa butter removed, is a super alternative in baking. With fewer than 15 calories and 1 gram of fat per tablespoon, it provides an easy way to cut down on the fat in chocolate desserts.
  • Make leaner brownies and cakes by substituting applesauce or pureed prunes for part of the added fat in your tried and true recipes. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of margarine, substitute 1/4 cup applesauce or pureed prunes along with 1/4 cup margarine. 

If you’re pleased with the final product, reduce the fat a little more the next time while boosting the fruit component.

Reducing fat
Try using lower fat substitutions in a recipe. For example:

  • Use 2 egg whites for one whole egg as a substitute for some of the eggs in a recipe.
  • Use evaporated skim or 2 per cent milk or buttermilk, instead of cream or sour cream.
  • Add instant coffee or expresso powder to enhance the taste of a lower-fat chocolate dessert.

By making these changes, there’s room in the fat count in a recipe to add some real chocolate.

For those who have been avoiding chocolate because of milk allergies or a lactose intolerance, there’s good news to report. Bittersweet or semi-sweet varieties do not necessarily contain any milk. Read labels carefully to find milk-free products.

Those products, which have only butterfat and no milk solids added, would not be a problem for the lactose intolerant. And for baking, use unsweetened chocolate.

Here’s an example of how to slash the fat but not the taste of a chocolate dessert.
Double Chocolate Bread Pudding
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (25 mL) unsweetened cocoa, sifted
2 egg whites
2 large eggs, beaten
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) evaporated skim milk
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt
1-1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) vanilla extract
3 cups (750 mL ) cubed day-old bread
1/4 cup (50 mL) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Prepare a 6-cup (1.5 L) baking dish by spraying with vegetable oil cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix together sugar and cocoa. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites, eggs, evaporated milk, cocoa mixture, salt and vanilla until well mixed. Stir in bread cubes until coated and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in chocolate chips and transfer mixture to the baking dish. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until a knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Serve warm or cold. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving nutritional information:
Calories: 230
Protein: 10 grams
Fat: 5 grams
Carbohydrate: 35 grams
Dietary Fibre: 2 grams

Cocoa Meringue Kisses
These are terrific yummy all year long. If you prefer a chewy cookie, cut down the baking time by a few minutes. Storing them in the freezer will keep them really chewy.

1/4 cup (50 mL) unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup (175 mL) granulated sugar
4 egg whites
1 tablespoon (15 mL) white vinegar
Pinch salt
1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped pecans
2 ounces (50 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Prepare a cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper. In a small bowl, mix together cocoa powder with 1/4 cup (50 mL) of the sugar; set aside. Beat egg whites until foamy. Add vinegar and salt, then slowly add the remaining 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar to egg white mixture, 2 tablespoons (25 mL) at a time. Add cocoa mixture slowly while continuing to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold in chopped pecans, chopped chocolate and vanilla extract.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until firm. Let cool for 1 minute before removing from pan. Makes about 50 cookies

Per serving nutritional information:
Calories: 22
Protein: less than 1 gram
Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrate: 4 grams
Dietary Fibre: less than 1 gram