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Monday, February 9, 2009

The Path of Chocolate: Raw Cacoa

Ahhh...chocolate. Almost everyone loves it. It makes us happy and blissed out; some may say it’s better than sex or an almost religious experience. Yet are we really eating the true, delicious chocolate? Where does it originate from? What path has chocolate taken from being discovered as a delicious drink used in cultural and religious rituals, to finding itself in stores across America wrapped in a little foil as one of the 80 million kisses that are made each day by Hershey’s?

While no one is sure as to when chocolate was first consumed by humans, the path to discovery looks a little something like this: Mesoamerican societies found that the pulp around cacao beans was edible. Some Mesoamerican archeologists believe that people were eating the pulp from the wild-growing South American cacao tree as early as 1500 B.C., but the Maya are the ones that discovered that the beans yielded...chocolate.

The Maya discovered that they could grind the beans into a powder. It was quite a long time before the solid form of chocolate was created. First, it was a delicious drink revered for its rich, unsweetened/bittersweet taste. The drink made by the Mayans was a mixture of ground cacao, spices, chilies, and water. It was not a common drink. At that time, cacao had a cultural and religious significance; it was used in religious and cultural ceremonies such as baptism, and was even used as medicine and currency. Cacao and cacao drink recipes written on pots have been found in burial vessels in Guatemala.

It is thought that Christopher Columbus was the first person to bring cacao to the Old World. First, it was kept a secret among the royal court, but eventually it started spreading. Then, during the Industrial Revolution, the first solid chocolate that you could actually eat, instead of drink, was born. Funny enough, no one knows who combined the melted fat that occurs in the cocoa beans with cocoa powder and sugar – but it changed the face of chocolate. In 1907 the Hershey’s kiss was born.

Today we find chocolate everywhere, usually made with milk instead of water, and filled with processed sugar. Unfortunately, milk coats the tongue and lessens the rich flavors. All is not lost, natural, unprocessed, raw cacao is making a huge comeback. While many think that the addition of spices and chilies is a new, delicious invention, it dates back to the Mayans and the original cacao drink.

Want to try some raw cacao for yourself? Check out these websites:

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dark Chocolate for Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Alcoholic fatty liver disease is a serious disease most commonly caused by alcoholism. When a person is continually drinking alcohol, it can inhibit two very important proteins – AMPK and SIRT1 – from doing their very important job of breaking down fats in the liver. The result of these proteins being inhibited can turn to alcoholic fatty liver disease. Alcoholic fatty liver disease can cause other diseases such as fibrosis and cirrhosis, and can even result in a liver transplant or death.

Fortunately, a new study has found that an antioxidant called resveratrol can help reverse and prevent the disease by stimulating AMPK and SIRT1 and clearing fat from the liver. In fact, reserveratrol may not only treat already established build-up, but may also be helpful for preventing the build-up of fats in the liver before they are dangerously affecting drinkers.

In the study researchers fed mice a healthy, low-fat diet and also fed some mice alcohol, some resveratrol, and some a combination of alcohol and resveratrol. The study found that when mice were given resveratrol they had less fat produced in the liver and stimulated AMPK and SIRT1 proteins. Resveratrol also stimulated a reduction in other liver proteins involved in fat build up and increased adiponectin, a hormone responsible for metabolizing fat.

This could be a landmark study, suggesting that humans could possibly reduce their chances of alcoholic fatty liver disease by eating foods that are high in the antioxidant. Peanuts, grapes, red wine and now, dark chocolate, baking chocolate, and cocoa are known to contain high amounts of resveratrol.

Perhaps all those bartenders who serve bowls of peanuts have a sixth sense that peanuts are healthy for their clientele, but probably not. Maybe bars should add grapes and dark chocolate to their bar snack-food.

Even though red wine has a high amount of resveratrol, it is still alcohol, so the results of drinking red wine to break down fats in the liver is unknown. Although, since red wine has the highest amount of resveratrol known (with dark chocolate coming in a close second) it is undoubtedly better for you than other alcohols.

While foods with resveratrol are possibly helpful for preventing and reducing alcoholic fatty liver disease, the most important finding in this study is that resveratrol is a potential, capable treatment for treating and preventing the disease. In the meantime, if you’re going to drink, grab some grapes and don’t forget to happily eat your dark chocolate!

A glass of red wine with some dark chocolate isn’t as bad as once thought.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A low-fat Strawberry Cannoli

Here's a link to an article that features a recipe for stuffed strawberries that sounds incredibly good. Yes, I am a cannoli fan, though I haven't had one for a long, long, long, long, long time. At any age, what goes on first comes off last, but in your forties it comes off dead last.

One of the commenters of the article, however, seemed to have a very good point, which was this: dark chocolate might be best as an ingredient. Actually, the health benefits of dark chocolate have been in the news quite a bit in recent years (even recently, it was reported that dark chocolate can be good for helping to keep belly fat off). So, if you're going to eat chocolate, which has a fantastic effect on endorphin levels (apparently, the effect, according to one study, is that it "lights up" your brain better than sex), go for dark chocolate.

On the subject of strawberries, I'll say that I really love them. They're just so hard to find in terms of quality. You know what I mean. You bring home a container of strawberries and after opening the packaging you find that they're already heading south. Either that, or they fall into decline within a couple of days. What's up with that? Do these things come from so far away that, by the time I buy them, they're scheduled to expire?

Sara Moulton's Stuffed Strawberries

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