Chocolate -- and Your Health
WebMD News Archive
Q: What is chocolate?
A: Chocolate is a mixture of cocoa paste, cocoa butter, and sugar. The
cocoa paste and butter come from the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree
(Theobroma cacao), a native of Central and South America, which is
cultivated around the equator. To make chocolate, first the cacao seeds -- with
centers more than 50% cocoa butter -- are fermented, roasted, and ground into a
paste. Then other ingredients are added, which vary by manufacturer. Nearly 400
beans are required to make a pound of chocolate liquor --, the semiliquid mass
produced by grinding the beans. Chocolate liquor, which of course is
nonalcoholic, is the basis for all chocolate and cocoa products.
Q: Where did the word chocolate come from? Who first had the idea
of eating chocolate?
A: The origins of the word chocolate may come from either the Mayan
cacao or the Nahuatl (Aztec) chocolatl. Spanish explorers brought
it to Europe as a drink made of powdered beans, similar to cocoa but not
sweetened. As cacao beans became more widely available, people began to
experiment with different ways of using them. An English confectioner, Joseph
Storrs Fry, made the first eating chocolate in 1849.
Q: What's the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate?
A: Different chocolate liquor-to-milk ratios produce sweet, semisweet, and
bittersweet chocolate. Milk chocolate is made from fresh whole milk added to
the liquor, and white chocolate -- which some say is not really chocolate -- is
a mixture of cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and vanilla flavoring. Some chocolate
manufacturers use artificial vanillin, rather than pure vanilla, as a flavoring
and use milk solids rather than whole milk. Some dark chocolates also may
contain milk products.
Q: What's in chocolate as a food?
A: Chocolate contains carbohydrates (starch, various sugars), fats (cocoa
butter), vegetable protein, potassium, and magnesium in large amounts; calcium
and sodium in small amounts; iron in trace amounts; and vitamins A,
B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), D, and E. Chocolate also
Q: Many people say they crave chocolate. How does this happen?
A: Chocolate is a high-energy food for its relatively small volume.
Chocolate contains substances, including caffeine, that act in the body in ways
similar to medications. This may account for its reputation as an
antidepressant, stimulant -- and aphrodisiac.