When most of us think of chocolate, we think of candy. Available in a plethora of unique flavors and shapes, chocolate has become one of the most popular food types and flavors in the world.
Chocolate is made by extracting two main components from cocoa beans: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa solids are a mixture of many substances remaining after cocoa butter is extracted from cacao beans. When sold as an end product, cocoa solids might also be called cocoa powder, cocoa, or cacao.
Milk and dark chocolates are made from a combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The color of the chocolate depends on the amount of cocoa solids and added ingredients, such as milk. In general, the darker the chocolate, the more cocoa solids it contains. Researchers believe the solids are where the healthy compounds are found. White chocolate, in contrast, contains no cocoa solids at all. As a result, white chocolate contains only trace amounts of the stimulants theobromine and caffeine, while lacking the antioxidant properties or many characteristic ingredients of chocolate, such as thiamine, riboflavin, and phenylethylamine.
The ancient Incas considered cocoa the drink of the gods, an association that gave rise to the scientific name of the cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao, from the Greek words theo (god) and broma (drink). In the language of the Aztecs, this drink was called chocolatl. Chocolate was so valuable to the ancient Mayans, it was used as currency and kept in safes with gold and precious stones.
Cocoa butter is the pale-yellow, edible vegetable fat obtained from cocoa beans. Natural cocoa butter has a mild chocolate flavor and aroma. It is valued for its melting characteristics, remaining brittle at room temperature but melting just below body temperature. One of the most stable fats known, cocoa butter contains antioxidants that discourage rancidity and allow storage life of up to five years. Its use with other fats improves their stability. Treatment of cocoa butter to remove the aroma (deodorizing) and color also removes antioxidants, increasing susceptibility to rancidity.
White chocolate and cocoa butter both keep very well at room temperature. Cocoa butter is made up of 60% saturated fat (split between stearic and palmitic acids), about 30% monounsaturated, and only 3% polyunsaturated fat. Since 2004, in the United States, white chocolate must be (by weight) at least 20% cocoa butter, 14% total milk solids, and 3.5% milk fat, with no more than 55% sugar or other sweeteners.
Compounds called flavanols are thought to be responsible for many of chocolate’s beneficial effects. These compounds are also found in tea, wine, fruits and vegetables. Different chocolates can vary greatly in their flavanol content because cocoa beans naturally differ in their flavanol levels; a large portion of flavanols is naturally removed during processing. In fact, companies often remove these compounds intentionally because they taste bitter. Essentially, there’s no way to deduce whether the cocoa you’re looking at contains high flavanol levels or not.
It is important to strictly differentiate between the natural product cacao and the processed product chocolate, which refers to the combination of cocoa, sugar, and eventually milk and other ingredients into a solid food product. Many of the health effects of cocoa and its contents may not be applicable to chocolate.
Cocoa butter is a perfect fit in cosmetics because of its stability and antioxidant content. Consumers will often see cocoa butter marketed in products claiming to reduce or eliminate stretch marks, particularly for use by pregnant women. However, studies on the use of cocoa butter for the purpose of reducing the appearance of stretch marks found that topical application of a lotion containing cocoa butter did not appear to reduce the likelihood of developing pregnancy stretch marks (striae gravid arum).
Because cocoa butter is solid at room temperature, when applied to the skin it forms a thin protective barrier that locks in moisture and blocks out harsh outside elements. That is why cocoa butter is commonly referred to as the “ultimate moisturizer” and used as a key ingredient in many lotions, lip balms, cosmetics and even anti-aging and scar reducing topical treatments.References:
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