The Ecology of Humans (51-5) Chocolate


When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile. ~ American writer Regina Brett

Chocolate is a concoction based upon the sizable pod seeds of the tropical cacao tree, native to the low foothills of the Andes mountains. The cocoa tree requires a humid climate, regular rainfall, and good soil.

A cocoa pod is typically 15–25 cm long, and 7.5–10 cm in diameter. Inside are oval beans: ~2.5–3 cm long, varying in color from white to purple.

Each cocoa seed brims with fat: 40% to 50% as cocoa butter. The most noted active ingredient in the cacao seed is the alkaloid theobromine (C7H8N4O2), a compound like caffeine (C8H10N4O2).

While chocolate is a pleasant buzz to humans, it is poison to dogs and cats, with its considerable toxicity disguised by an agreeable taste.

Chocolate has been cultivated for at least 5 millennia. Its earliest and most abiding form was, and is, as a drink.

Now, roughly 2/3rds of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, with Côte d’Ivoire the largest single producer.

Chocolate is easily one of the most popular flavors in the world. Sweet chocolate predominates. Bittersweet chocolate, with less sugar, is commonly used in baking. Unsweetened chocolate is quite bitter.

Dark chocolate unadulterated by milk products is the healthiest palatable form. The cacao within is a source of antioxidants that reduce the formation of free radicals which promote aging. Chocolate also acts as an anti-inflammatory and helps regulate insulin levels.

Chocolate is good for us partly because it is not easily digestible. Gut bacteria feast on the indigestible part of cocoa, fermenting it in wholesome anti-inflammatory compounds which our bodies absorb.

The healthiest dark chocolate has a high cocoa content. Chocolate is laden with sugar, so lower content cocoa, common in sweet chocolates, cannot be considered a healthy food, at least not physically. But then, the pleasure of dark chocolate cannot be denied. Chocolate is the ultimate comfort food and has benefit as a stress reducer.

Milk chocolate is just that: chocolate contaminated with dairy, and so considerably less healthy than dark chocolate.

White chocolate is the least nutritious, having had the cocoa solids removed. Without its active ingredients, white chocolate can be consumed by animals other than humans without ill effect.