Heather Rockwood is a food science junior and Mustang Daily food columnist.

Uno, dos, tres – CHO
Uno, dos, tres – CO
Uno, dos, tres – LA
Uno, dos, tres – TE!
Chocolate, chocolate, bate bate, chocolate!

Latin American song “Bate Chocolate”

This delicious dessert that makes up more than half of all candy in the United States actually originated with a very different purpose, and still poses more function than just satisfying a sweet tooth.

If only we grew up centuries before in the days of the ancient civilizations of the Mayan, Aztec and Olmec people, then our dreams of money growing on trees would finally come true. Yes, that’s right, the Mayans and Aztecs grew money on trees.

The cacao (cocoa) bean — what we harvest in order to make chocolate — was used as a form of currency.

Chocolate was also used in religious ceremonies and to make an unsweetened drink called xocoatl that is seasoned with spices. When cocoa beans were taken and dispersed throughout Europe, chocolate’s popularity began to grow. It was combined with sugar and developed into the chocolate that is widely consumed today.

Sure, the high amounts of sugar found in candy bars such as Snickers, Milky Way and 3 Musketeers are not the epitome of a healthy diet, but is the chocolate they contain really all that bad for you?

Recent studies and science suggest, to the excitement and acceptance of a multitude of chocolate connoisseurs, that the benefits are not only enough to keep chocolate in your diet but impressive enough to deem chocolate a superfood.

As a fellow sweet tooth, believe me, I am more than thrilled with this news. But it must be taken with a grain of salt — not to mention, chocolate tastes delicious with a pinch of coarse sea salt.

The potential health benefits found in chocolate are reserved to serving sizes of only 2 to 3.5 ounces a day, and don’t apply to white or milk chocolate. This means look to dark chocolate for the real benefits, and don’t plan on eatting a pound or two a week. Chocolate is still a fairly high calorie and high fat food — although 1/3 of the fat present (palmitic acid) is associated with negative effects on cholesterol, the other 2/3 fat present in the forms of oleic and stearic acid, have either a neutral or beneficial effect on cholesterol. Since it is a high calorie/fat food, you must properly balance your diet to accommodate an increased calorie/fat intake when consuming chocolate.

Don’t get fooled into thinking just because you are limited to dark chocolate for the best health benefits you are limited in flavor. Dark chocolate contains more than 300 different compounds and chemicals that contribute to its complex flavor and delicious taste. In fact, chocolate is so complex, it requires a 10-step system to taste it properly.

I will leave the whole 10-step series for you to discover, but I will highlight just a few steps.

For the most flavorful chocolate experience, be sure your chocolate is brought to room temperature. Break off a piece and listen for a “snap.” The louder the “snap,” the higher portion of cocoa is present (meaning more antioxidants present) — a trained taster can tell a great deal about the quality of the chocolate just by the sound.

Before tasting, melt a little chocolate by rubbing it between your fingers in order to release odor compounds that will enhance your tasting. By adhering to these few, simple techniques, you can begin to improve your chocolate tasting experience. Most importantly, remember to take a moment to actually taste the chocolate. Don’t just scarf it down while watching a movie or running out the door — take a moment to taste it.

I am sure some of you are thinking, “Yes, that’s nice and all, but what about the health benefits?”

For you health nuts, chocolate contains high amounts of antioxidants in the form of flavonoids. In fact, chocolate has nearly eight times the amount found in strawberries. A quick reminder, antioxidants help fight free radicals and keep you healthy.

Chocolate is also recorded to produce nitric oxide, which helps relax and lower blood pressure. It is even known to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — a.k.a. “bad” — cholesterol levels in certain cases. Even chocolate milk is getting promoted as a wonderful post work out drink by replenishing tired muscles, battling dehydration and it has the added benefit of calcium. Chocolate is battling for its spot out of “guilty pleasure food” to a “healthy treasure food.”

Does this all seem too good to be true? Well, hold your breath, it only gets better.

Chocolate is a Fair Trade crop, and our very own green and gold campus is home to the only university-based Fair Trade certified business in the nation that sells chocolate. San Luis Obispo is also home to the Sweet Earth Organic Chocolate shop, founded by Cal Poly food science and nutrition associate professor Tom Neuhaus, and sells chocolate that is not only gratifying to the tongue, but also the socially conscious.

Try something new this week. Host a chocolate tasting party, or go ahead, indulge and buy that Cal Poly chocolate bar between classes at Campus Market. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, go ahead and try putting a little chocolate in your chicken.

HINT: This fruit was thought to be the “golden apple” of Hesperides that Hercules had to get in his 11th labor…

Sweet Chocolate Mole Sauce

Ingredients:

– 4 1/2 c. chicken broth

– 3 Tbs. olive oil

– 1 c. finely chopped white onion

– 6 cloves garlic

– 1 tsp. each oregano and ground cumin

– 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

– 2 1/2 Tbs. chili powder

– 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour

– 1 Tbs. honey

– 2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

Directions:

– Heat oil in a large sauce pan; reduce heat to low and add onion garlic, oregano, cumin and cinnamon. Cook until tender, or approximately 10 minutes.

– Add chili powder and flour. Stir for three minutes.

– Gradually whisk chicken broth and honey.

– Increase heat to med-high and boil until reduced, or approximately 35 minutes — stirring occasionally.

– Remove from heat; whisk in chocolate.

– Season to taste with salt and pepper.

– Add to shredded chicken on a tortilla and enjoy.

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