Believe it or not, nutrition was what first pulled me into making chocolate. To some of you, that may sound crazy--after all, chocolate has a reputation for being a fatty, sugary, guilty pleasure. On the other hand, we're seeing more and more claims that chocolate can be a superfood. Which side is right? My purpose is not to settle this debate once and for all; it's just to say that what we call "chocolate" comes in many forms, and that the chocolate the craft industry produces can be a great fit for those of you looking for healthier options. Here's why.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when considering chocolate and our health is that there's lots of stuff in most commercial "chocolate" that isn't chocolate. Read the ingredients on a mass-market chocolate bar the next time you see one. Odds are you'll find mysterious ingredients like soy lecithin, vanillin, and an assortment of unfamiliar powders and vegetable oils. You'll also notice that in many chocolate products, and even in some so-called "dark" chocolates, the first ingredient listed is actually refined sugar. It's hard to see artificial ingredients and lots of refined sugar as beneficial to our health. On top of it, some individuals are allergic to the additives common in mass-market chocolate.
In contrast, craft chocolate makers use only simple, natural ingredients that we've all heard of: usually nothing more than cocoa beans, sugar, and sometimes cocoa butter, which is just the fat portion of the cocoa bean. And, the first ingredient on a bar of craft chocolate is almost always cocoa beans, not sugar. So, if there is any truth to the claim that chocolate is good for you, the way to enjoy its benefits would be to eat chocolate products that are, well, mostly chocolate. Guess what? That's really the only thing craft chocolate makers offer.
Left: cocoa beans that have been roasted and cracked. Right: the same, after winnowing to remove the unwanted husk. The primary ingredient in craft chocolate is the stuff on the right--it's 100% chocolate.
I got into chocolate making because I wanted access to the kind of real chocolate without junk ingredients that craft chocolate makers were producing, and I was having trouble finding it locally. But I also wanted to go a step further and produce a chocolate with no refined sugar. We can debate whether or not refined sugar is bad for you, but in the end, my philosophy is that traditional ingredients are superior, because they have kept communities healthy for hundreds and often thousands of years. Refined sugar--even the most "natural" organic variety--is made using an aggressive, high-heat modern industrial process. I don't believe our food should be subjected to such extremes, so I set out to find a sweetener with more integrity.
My search led to "whole" or "unrefined" cane sugar, a traditional food available in many countries and under many different names. It is nothing more than gently purified and dried sugarcane juice that retains the juice's color, vitamins, and minerals. Whole cane sugar's flavor is richer than refined sugar's, but still allows the flavors of single-origin cocoa beans to shine though with great clarity. Sadly, to my knowledge, whole cane sugar is not produced in the United States. It must be imported. My favorite comes from smallholder farms in India, where, as an added bonus, the cane juice is sun-dried with no fuel and no carbon emissions.
Minimally processed whole cane sugar retains the nutrients and light-brown color of cane juice. Whole cane sugar is the only sweetener we use at Wm. Chocolate.
I hope you'll consider my point of view on sugar, but the bigger idea here is that us craft chocolate makers are independent and often health-conscious. This means we're making an effort to bring options to the table that you won't find elsewhere. Sweetening my products with whole cane sugar is just one example. You'll also find products sweetened with unrefined maple sugar or coconut sugar, dairy-free nut milk chocolates (for those who cannot or choose not to consume dairy), and much more.
So, when it comes to chocolate and your health, here are some facts that aren't up for debate: craft chocolate makers say no to unnatural ingredients, create products that actually contain lots of chocolate, and, collectively, offer genuine choices that are compatible with many different philosophies of healthy eating. And since we make real, high-quality chocolate, it only takes a few nibbles to feel satisfied. These are all great leaps forward in the saga of chocolate and nutrition.