Start with Breakfast Chocolate

heart on chocolateDon’t listen to anyone who says beginning your day with chocolate is [pejoratively] indulgent. Scientists at Syracuse compiled research that a breakfast slice of peanut butter frosted, cauliflower infused chocolate cake should probably be an essential mind and body kickstart. Actually, you probably currently do worse by not rousing yourself from sleep with an offering (to your body, the temple) of a nibble or more of chocolate. It is probably even worth your time to consider consuming even more dark chocolate throughout the day, and proselytizing — albeit not to the point of being annoying — that friends and family do likewise.

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely read again and often how eating chocolate (usually dark and with less sugar and lead than the drugstore varieties) has extraordinary benefits. Research indicates that eating it will make you happier; keep you calmer; add to your intelligence; could make you smarter; and, if your mother had cared enough about you to eat more, even added to your neo-natal development. It is helpful before and after a workout, should be a part of a general program of health, and, paradoxically, can even be eaten all day as a diet aid, with the caveat that a diet solely based in consuming chocolate and making incredible claims to solve all your problems is likely a hoax.

Think before you eat! As with all things cocoa-based, and most things generally, enjoy in moderation so as not to lose enjoyment of the flavoring in a misguided, maniacal quest toward some out-of-reach goal. In other words, eating chocolate all day should not become a life where you eat ONLY chocolate all day: doing so has been proven to make you sick, fortunately a reversible predicament. An aside, in Midas-myth form, the problem of “too much” is told by Patrick Skene Catling’s 1952 children’s book, The Chocolate Touch.

Summarizing: no surprise, we’re pro dark chocolate. Eat it all day, but never as the only thing you eat. Remember, science and scientists!

Chocolate Loves Science

Chocolate pleasures the palate, as it seduces the eyes. In print and on the internet. Which science journo John Bohannon took advantage of when he deliberately used bad science to try and break the internet (and point out to others why covering scientific studies should not be the same as spreading gossip) with the headline kidnapping claim that consuming chocolate can be a weight loss shortcut.

In addition to highlighting gullibility and dream fulfillment yearnings, Bohannon’s stunt also brings to the fore the reality that science and chocolate are often engagingly entwined. Sometime it’s not in a positive way, such as when Arizona Senator Flake mounted his barricades to shrill and (try to) kill a $135,000 grant supporting chocolate’s preservation.

Other times science and chocolate are unattractively meshed in the most attractive of tales (even if they are still kinda heartwarming) such as when empathy among rats was proven with the choice of drowning pals over nibbles of chocolate.

Admittedly, not all science is great science. There are the pseudo-scientists to consider, such as those Australians who put their mouths where their brains are and tested a vegemite — chocolate concoction.

However, there are also cocoa “doctors” (sponsored by Mars) trying to help Indonesian cacao farmers fending off a potential chocolate shortage; there are scientists x-raying bloom (the white dust that can form on a chocolate bar); and there are those scientists in England trying to stave off extinction of cacao species with research that the Flakester is trying to limit.

While keeping chocolate extant rather than extinct is important, you have to admit that it is not as immediately exciting as when cacao and science spark the imagination as they do for Good Mythical Morning‘s Rhett and Link when they harmonize CHOCOLATE POWERED ROBOTS FROM BEYOND THE MOON!

#science #politics #robots #media

The Outside Is Chocolate; the Inside …?

chocolate shreds balls sticksWhat goes into chocolate? Looking around we’ve recently seen inspiration … and, fortunately not as often, sometimes sadness.

Starting at the happy end of the scale, reading about the glories of Yerba mate led us to a couple bros chilling in a seemingly slightly dystopic bachelor pad and talking cocoa nib/shredded coconut yerba mate brew

And that got us thinking about and then moving down the path of nutritious, if unexpected, pairings. Recent news highlighted the new Exo protein-saturated, ground-cricket chocolate bar (with tweeted updates from @exo_protein) and the entrepreneurial, Kickstarted “dream” to mainstream insect consumption. [See also, the earlier Q&A with “Bug Chef” David George Gordon.

Following that trail dropped us on top of other news items and recipes, including chocolate beet ice cream, Jack Daniels whisky-filled chocolate bars and celeb chef Marcus Samuelson’s (more from @MarcusCooks) concoction of chocolate bark with quinoa and a dash of cayenne.

Toward the less-happy edge of the scale there is the virus causing frost pod rot that, theoretically, threatens the world’s chocolate supply at some point in the future if not dealt with, and in a bit of how evil can overshadow ecstasy, smugglers encased elephants tusks inside chocolate to sneak them past the law.

But to take the mind back to a happier place and the goodness that should be inherent and infused in chocolate, we also stumbled across chocolate-slathered jerky from Portland’s Shurky Jurky:

Anyway, time to stop thinking about what’s inside the chocolate, start baking and get back to the fun of nibbling at the outside.

Chocolate News Ramble

chocolate head_phrenologyIt’s science and health morning at CAC.

Recent research from Ph.D. candidate Pase out of Swinburne is that dark chocolate creates a sense of calm and contentedness. Obviously, we like where the research is going, but hope he will expand to some insights and empirical good news beyond the obvious that thirty straight days of drinking excellent cocoa makes those who do feel better than those who don’t.

A step back from such a Dr. Obvious statement are results proffered by health/nutrition/cacao(?) expert Doctor Janeth Aidee Perea, Director of the Center of Research in Food Science and Technology of the Industrial University of Santander (Colombia). Speaking at the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on Cocoa and Chocolate, now wrapping up in Havana, Perea sends out to the world the pronouncement on the health benefits of cacao ingestion that, the bitterer the betterer (it’s an antioxidant thing).

In addition to reading the report and realizing we missed out on what could have been a great trip to Havana to hang out with Perea and a few thousand of his nearest and dearest, there is also an envy-inducing article making the rounds by a journalist feasted, fattened and flattered for a few days at the Hotel Sacher [earlier: , that makes the point that chocolate outside the system — as in the hotel’s spa treatment au chocolate also promotes calm and contentedness.  (Maybe we could post a video at Kickstarter to study this?)

As for things we would enjoy seeing, we end the morning’s ramble with the headline grabbing announcement that a beautiful woman (model Petra Němcová in this case) announces she likes chocolate as a daystarter as a way to keep herself looking beautiful. Although, not to be too cynical about it could all just be a PR product placement as she does mention favorite line “>her favorite line. …not that being so jaundiced will keep us from being encouraged by the reality and fantasy that constantly delighting in dark chocolate can calm and content us, could get us an invite to Havana or may even provide an out-of-body Viennese experience as we return to work.

#Chocolate: Sense and Taste, Not Just Tastebuds

chocolate shreds balls sticksA canyon separates chocolate taster wishing to pleasure his or her soul from self-medicating inhaler attempting to fill psychological divots (or potholes) with the immediate pleasures of cured cacao. A thinner line separates the informed taster from the off-putting snob. (Fair warning: read further, learn, taste and talk elegantly and intelligently of what you imbibe at your peril.)

Every bit of chocolate has its unique flavorprint, reflecting lineage, topography, weather, soil, processing, and post-production care. To get a sense of just the beginning of those complexities, consider the infographic created by artist Sean Seidell.

Chocolate infographic_SeidellTo try and puzzle all that might mean to you — to turn you into your own cacaommelier — you will have to suffer through the tasting a lot of chocolate. To put a little bit of science into it do your tasting (whether just one type or a comparison) in a room free of distractions and complete with a between-taste palate cleanser of water and crackers. Experiment with a piece larger than crumb, but not as large as you would choose if this were just for enjoyment and if you’ve been keeping it cold wait (if you can) until the chocolate is room temperature. Turn on all senses.

Consider the chocolate’s color, structure and shine. White marks or dustiness (“bloom”) are a sign of poor tempering by the manufacturer. Similarly, there should be no visible air bubbles, or swirling or inconsistencies across the face. The surface should offer at least a slight reflection of light rather than a dull matte finish with a range of “brown rainbow” of hues ranging from tints of pinks, and oranges to purple and black.

Is the surface smooth, rough, grainy? The former is preferred, although some tongues do have more fun with the extra tingles from the latter.

When you break the chocolate does it make the preferred sharp snap? That snap is also likely to be accompanied by the also preferable clean break (no crumbs). A higher milk chocolate content will tamp down the snap and clean break.

Discover the aromas by holding the chocolate directly under your nose or letting it sit on your tongue and breathing out. The mind may be surprised by hints of honey, vanilla or even flowers or tobacco. If it helps, you can consider this the foreplay prior to the engagement of your full taste sensations.

And when you are ready begin the tasting, by letting it slowly melt (the flavors should evolve) and wash over all taste sensitive points on your tongue. Find where on the range of flavors — sweet to bitter, spicy, earthy, fruity — your particular piece lives and whether it moves from one point to another. To the extent possible, avoid the temptation to chew and explore for yourself how the flavors evolve from first fruit ethers to lingering afternotes. (If comparing different chocolates, begin with the lowest percentage of cacao and work your way up, comparing between five and 10 different chocolates at any one session.)

With your bite nearing its finish it’s time to note how the flavor has evolved. Is the chocolate bitter? Heavy? Light? What tastes remain and what has vanished from the tongue map? Finally, and nobody else can tell you this, was it the best sensory experience for the moment or did it leave you wishing for a different chocolate love?

(So as not to just get caught up in the experience and perhaps replicate or intentionally improve on it, consider a small off- or online notebook stocked with notes, discoveries and maybe even wrappers.)

If by chance all of this helps you discover a lifelong passion you wish to turn into a profession, the Wall Street Journal helps out with directions on the path that could lead to certification as one of the worlds top cocoa-bean graders:

Questions and Answers with Mark Guiltinan, Sequencer of the Cacao Genome

heart on chocolateSomething about people going Valentine’s Day overboard in response to too many advertisements promoting cheap chocolates has sent us seeking repose in the science behind the art of cacao. We still wish everyone the happiest and chocolatiest of Valentines, but our interest on this day this year has led to Penn State Professor Mark Guiltinan, who along with colleagues, has taken one of the late deepest looks ever into what make chocolate chocolate.

The professor of plant molecular biology in the Department of Horticulture in the College of Agricultural Sciences heads up the eponymous Guiltinan Lab, where he studies crop improvement and sustainable farming methods. Among his projects was playing an integral part in the International Cocoa Genome Sequencing Consortium sequencing and analyzing the heirloom, Belize Criollo variety of the Theobromo cacao plant. Their goal was to understand the cacao genome, closely related to the luxury of the Mayans and Aztecs — consumed as a hot drink laced with peppers — in order to breed healthier, higher quality trees and more disease-resistant cacao pods. It was also hoped that the research would yield economic, social and environmental advantages to the cacao farmers and nations. What it was not, was a foray into scary science, or, as he told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time, “…the main aim of the projects wasn’t to bring the world genetically modified candy bars.”

criolle bean podsTaking a few moments from his research and his own Valentines Day preparations, Dr. Guiltinan kindly shared a few insights into his affairs with chocolate.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: What was the moment or event or day or taste that was the inspiration for your personal and professional interest in studying the genome of chocolate?
Dr. Mark Guiltinan: Visiting the cacao growing regions of Bahia, Brazil, in 1995, and witnessing the effects of the witches’ broom epidemic, and how it had made thousands of people homeless, inspired me to focus on cacao. A few years later, the human genome was published, and I realized that sequencing the cacao genome could have a huge impact on accelerating the improvement of this tasty crop.

CAC: What was the most surprising thing you learned from your analysis?
MG: The cacao genome sequence allowed us to localize a gene (NPR1) that is very important in the plant immune system, to a region of chromosome 9 that is known to be very important in resistance to witches’ broom disease. We still have a ways to go to know for sure that the NPR1 gene is the reason certain plants can fight this disease better then others, but were working on that now.

CAC: How do you expect people to use your work to influence the growth and even taste of chocolate?
MG: The genome sequence will be used for the foreseeable future by anyone working with cacao improvement because it offers so many ways to speed up the process. I plan to continue to work on decoding the secrets of the cacao genome as long as I can, is there a better job anywhere?

CAC: In what ways does knowing the science of the taste of chocolate influence your personal experience of enjoying it, if you still can?
MG: When I taste chocolate I think of the different genetic types of cacao that contribute to the different flavors and even imagine the molecular structures of the compounds that we taste. Maybe it distracts from the taste…? I enjoy darker chocolates such as 65 percent to 75 percent and have become found of mixtures with fruits, nuts and other species. I love almost all quality chocolates but am quite fond of Lindt [Disclaimer: we do not receive any funding from this company, unfortunately!]. The Lindt Excellent Intense Pear is one of my most favorite, but there are many others. Come to think of it there are few chocolates I do not like, they are all just different experiences to try and enjoy.

CAC: Are you doing other work with cacao?
MG: We are studying the immune system of cacao to help breeders find better plants. We are working on the genes involved in oil biosynthesis (cocoa butter) that could lead to more or different cocoa butter. We work on the genes for flavonoid synthesis as well, which will someday lead to chocolates even higher levels of these healthy compounds. We also work on ways to propagate cacao through tissue culture which is very exciting technology that has recently been commercialized in Indonesia and is spreading worldwide. We now have made a impact throughout the cocoa growing world!

CAC: Do you have any special Valentine’s Day plans? Any favorite recipes you will be sharing with someone special?
MG: hmmmm let me get back to you on that…..

CAC: What other projects have captured your imagination?
MG: I am interested in working in large interdisciplinary teams to focus on cacao as a vehicle for economic, environmental and social improvement. To do this we need a coordinated plan that brings together specialists in all dimensions of the cocoa value chain, with a common goal to support the sustainability of the chocolate industry, and to help cocoa farmers worldwide. There are a few such projects starting and I hope our team can contribute to these. I also believe that in the future, it will be important to use all technology we have to solve agricultures and societies most pressing issues. One such technology is genetic engineering. While I am sure this is not going to be a popular comment with many of your readers, I believe that one day it will contribute to cocoa sustainability along with all the other tools we have. Towards that end, we are doing research now that will be important when that day comes. Don’t worry anti-GMO folks, there are no plans to release any GMO cocoa anytime soon! It’s just a research tool for now. I plant to spend a portion of my time to educate the public about this issue. If you want to learn more, here is a very interesting article written by Mark Lynas, one of the most anti-GMO activists of all time, who has now re-thought his position.

Between Bites Think Health

chocolate as medicineIT’S THE NADIR, that valley of not-unhappy between the elation peaks of Christmas and New Year’s. Having overeaten and approaching the eve of excess, repentance and resolution our thoughts turn to health. After a quick Google, here’s what the experts mostly opine: cacao itself good and most chocolate (treated with sugar, oils, etc.) bad.

Of course, the experts are rarely of the kitchen sort.

Interestingly enough, expert historians, Philip Wilson of Penn State and Jeffrey Hurst of Hershey and Penn State found (and published in Chocolate as Medicine: A Quest over the Centuries) that medical benefits and chocolate have been walking hand-in-hand since at least 1800 BCE, with shamanistic solutions to snakebite; female biology issues, breathing, exhaustion, heart troubles, etc.

Other experts weigh in with other health-related benees: suggesting it reduces the danger for those in the high risk of heart disease category who drink no-sugar-added cocoa and fat free milk twice a day; that it helps with math; counterintuitively aids dieters; stimulates happy parts of brain; aids relaxation; and may even prolong life — perhaps because the sampled population had more (i.e., chocolate) to live for.

As for the kitchen “experts,” Health Mag proposes “Five Decadent (Healthy) Chocolate Recipes. WebMD spins a tale of healthy chocolate recipes. And if you think vegan is the way to go One Green Planet provides its vegan best, including “Raw Chocolate Banana Pie with Whipped Coconut Cream.”

Of course experts can only be trusted so far — which we note as news reaches us of an IBM computer proposing the new taste sensation of dark chocolate and blue cheese.

The key to health (mental and physical) is gaining from other’s expertise and trying things out for yourself when you can … like perhaps the health remedy you’ll need most by next Tuesday, the day after the eve of excess, repentance and resolution, which is a chocolate and water cure for hangovers.

Selling Chocolate to the Little Heads

BRING ON THE SENSATIONAL — Sex, Sex, Sex, Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate… a pinch of science and heaping cup and a half of hype — and see it if sells!

Somewhat under the radar for holiday news, but no doubt getting its engine revved for a pre-Valentines ejaculation of interest is the news that mega-cocoa provider Barry Callebaut will be “turbo-charging” at least one of its chocolate offerings, tweaking and enhancing flavenols and increasing blood pumping attributes, which has the suggestion and allure of “choco-viagra.”

(At this point we should probably apologize to anyone who has read this far after searching for “chocolate viagra” hoping for porn but ending up here. Sorry, but do still hope you’ll look around in case we might somehow satisfy another appetite.)

Chocolate traces its aphrodisiacal mystique back at least to the Aztecs and Montezuma’s alleged consumption of 50 hot cocoa cups a day. Unfortunately, killbuzz scientists do mostly find that the advertised ScINtillating properties are more likely psychological than physiological,(which doesn’t keep anyone from trying to come up with sexy chocolate bars … even if said sweets leave at least some critics limp).

We root for Callebaut to have created the breakthrough that will help us sell evermore chocolate to men for their own consumption and everyone’s enjoyment. At the same time, we can’t help beware the hype and persist in the hope that sex, sex, sex, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate doesn’t screw up the taste.

Chocolate Viagra indeed: a very odd love affair with one’s food.

Broccoli, Squash and Pumpkin, but Most of All Chocolate

The wonderfully entitled When will broccoli taste like chocolate? is only briefly about that question. Worst of all, it doesn’t provide the answer. Alas.

Instead, the book is a collection of intriguing questions and the answers from Stanford geneticists. The broccoli/chocolate query was posted in 2008 and the answer then was that it depended on sequencing the cacao DNA — accomplished in 2010 — and then incredible amounts of other work unlikely to be done since even with the sequencing scientists still won‘t understand exactly why it tastes like it does.

The end of the response to the b-c query is that you just take the ingredients you want and olio them in a blender. Or more eloquently, find a recipe and make it all taste healthy. That suggestion brings us to some recipes from the news we recently tripped over in search of the seasonal. As Halloween looms we have begun working on a pumpkin chocolate (in this case pumpkin chocolate chip cookies something or other. For next year, we are thinking of entering into the fray of what chocolatey thing home gardeners should do with the abundance of zucchini that shows up all of a sudden. No surprise, there is recipe after recipe that springs up at this time of year with ideas on how to create chocolate zucchini cupcakes or even chocolate espresso zucchini cake.

In answer to the first question of when will chocolate taste like broccoli? We like to think it will be as soon as we can get the recipe right.

Rat Junkies … and cookie recipes

We love M&Ms but they are not the top of the chocolate line. In fact, according to a recent study they are junk chocolate that leads to rat junkies. Anyway, that’s the way we like to interpret the results gained as University of Michigan scientists messed with rat brains to see how to (and perhaps people as well) change the pleasure received from a particular reward. In this case they used M&Ms as the treat and got the rats to more than double their “natural” intake.

It’s all supposed to lead to procedures to possibly cure addiction as well as others to stimulate appetite, when that is called for. If you happen to be somewhere in the middle between appetite and addiction and hankering now for some of the round chocolate bites, consider Ann Romney’s M&M cookie recipe — unless you want the winner of the quadrennial Family Circle “First Lady” bake off, Michaelle Obama’s White and Dark Chocolate Chip cookies.