Chocolates are based on the raw material Cocoa beans which are dried seeds of the plant Theobroma cocao L obtained from the ripe pods after fermentation. The process involves roasting of the seeds, breaking them into pieces, recovering the nibs, grinding the nibs into refined cocoa mass and compounding into chocolates with sugar, cocoa butter and other ingredients. There is a great attraction for chocolates for children, youngsters and grown ups because of the fine texture and delicate flavor. The characteristic melting profile of coco butter which becomes soft at body temperature gives the chocolates their unique sensory quality.
Chocolates are shunned by many consumers because of the presence of high levels of fat and sugar both implicated in life style disorders like obesity, cardiovascular ailments, diabetes etc when consumed in excess. Besides dental problems are also associated with high chocolate consumption. Though chocolates often symbolize happy occasions, regular consumption is discouraged amongst children by the parents due to the bad reputation these products have because of fat and sugar. More over cocoa butter is a saturated fat with potential for increasing serum triglyceride levels and consequently build up of low density cholesterol (LDL) leading to atherosclerosis. 45-55% fat present in cocoa mass has a restraining influence on consumers and naturally with such a reputation consumers cannot be faulted if they tend to avoid consumption of chocolates.
How far one can justify branding chocolate as a villain, given the scientific facts vis-a-vis chocolates.Cocoa is a rich source of flavonoids like epicatechin, catechin and procyanidins which are known to improve endothelial and platelet function as well as maintaining blood pressure. They are associated with acute elevation of circulating nitric oxide and enhance flow-mediated vasodilation. Catechins which are present in abundance in cocoa are good antioxidants that help protect the body against cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Theobromine, another phytochemical native to cocoa, is known to be a stimulant of Central Nervous System and it facilitates muscle function. Anandamide, a cannabinoid present in brain and responsible for the well being mood, is claimed to be present in cocoa also and acts on brain receptors to help promote the mood boost, enhancing the feelings of well being. Though the extremely small concentration of anandamide in cocoa may not be that effective, presence of two structurally related chemicals N-oleolethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine could be responsible for the mood enhancing properties of cocoa as they are known to inhibit metabolism of naturally occurring anandamide in the brain, thus preserving its effect longer. Cocoa is also rich in potassium, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, Vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E. Dark chocolates can reduce death due to heart attack by 50%. Chocolates are high in the amino acid Tryptophan that increases Serotonin which is known to reduce cravings for starch and sweet foods. Japanese scientists have recently come out with the amazing findings that regular consumption of cocoa every day boosts the beneficial HDL cholesterol.
Consumed in moderate amounts, chocolate, especially the bitter one, is a health promoter and deserves a place in the diet of normal healthy persons. Probably avoiding too much sugar and reducing the fat content to lowest level possible, cocoa based products can even claim the coveted role of a nutraceutical. Future R & D can further expand the use of cocoa through health-friendly formulated products which consumers may accept without reservation.