Chocolate isn’t local in these parts (though Candinas makes seriously good truffles). The growing conditions we currently have to offer here in the Midwest aren’t very friendly to cacao. (Maybe global warming will change that someday.) That said, local isn’t the only or necessarily first priority for me when making food choices; additional factors are always also under consideration. Since locally grown isn’t an option with chocolate, I’d at least like to know that farmers are getting paid and treated fairly for growing a quality product, and that the beans are being grown in ways that minimize negative environmental impacts for the health of all involved. So, I try to buy fair trade and organic from folks who seem to be doing things right. These days my chocolate of choice is Theo. My favorite of late is their 70% cacao dark bar (the one on the far right in the photo). Pop a piece in your mouth, let it melt on your tongue, and be lifted away to some otherworldly place for a few moments.
A few years back, after reading a study published in JAMA called “Effects of Low Habitual Cocoa Intake on Blood Pressure and Bioactive Nitric Oxide,” I decided to put on my fake M.D. hat and write myself a prescription for a small “therapeutic” dose of dark chocolate every day. “It’s good for my blood pressure,” Dr. Me told myself. (Start long interruptive: Setting aside this particular small, albeit well-designed study, are the positive health benefits of chocolate overrated? Yes, as are the health claims of most food products. Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food does a great job of dissecting this problem. But good chocolate is full of micronutrients nonetheless, and it’s dang delicious regardless. End interruptive.) I always keep a bar or two on my desk at work, and each day, usually after lunch, I break off a bit to enjoy. The nutritional label on my Theo package says a regular-sized, 3-ounce bar contains two servings, but as part of my “low habitual intake,” I make it last for a whole 18 “doses.” The Theo bar is scored into six rows, so I break each row into three pieces. (I tried making two pieces per row, but that felt like too big a chunk, so I tried breaking it into four pieces per row, but that made for overly wee bits. Yes, I’m the kind of guy who would fine-tune such a thing.) Is it a sign of some bizarre personality defect that I can content myself with what is probably the equivalent of a single Hershey’s Kiss every workday instead of eating a much larger portion of this amazing treat, which is just sitting there on my desk in arm’s reach? Perhaps, but the unspoken deal I made with myself is that I can scarf down a huge piece if I want to, but then I can’t have it every day, and trust me, I want it every day. So, lucky guy that I am, I savor a little bit of chocolatey goodness every day!
P.S. Speaking of Hershey, you might be curious to know that Hershey chocolate bars contain a few more ingredients than Theo bar’s simple list of four (cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, and ground vanilla bean, all organic and the first three fair-trade certified). Hershey’s bonus ingredients include PGPR, or polyglycerol polyricinoleate, which apparently is there to “improve viscocity.” Yum! Manufacturers seem to like it because it can be substituted for cocoa butter, which means they can put less chocolate in every chocolate bar and still keep the stuff flowing in the factory. Hooray!
P.P.S. Did you read about the foreign exchange students who walked off their summer jobs last month at a Hershey plant in Pennsylvania to protest their exploitation?