Why is chocolate good for us? Well it depends on what kind of chocolate you go for but the theory goes the higher the Cacao percentage, the higher the health boosting properties will be. A good quality dark chocolate can apparently boost your mood, boost your brain power, help prevent disease and alleviate age related problems, with the powerful flavonoids and antioxidants it contains.
The things that will make your chocolate less healthy are to do with the processing and added ingredients that many companies put in to fill it out, making it cheaper for them to make and much less healthy for us to consume. Ever heard the phrase:
“a second on the lips a lifetime on the hips!?”
I actually think you can eat a piece of cake, or some chocolate, or a couple of biscuits everyday and not ever have this phrase pass through your head again – if you choose to make these items from scratch, mind-fully selecting your chosen ingredients so that they are nutrient dense and not packed to the gunnels with sugar and other heavily processed nasties! 🙂
If I do buy chocolate I tend to go for the highest Cacao percentage, and I also have a little look to see if there are any added ingredients beyond Cacao butter, Cacao and raw sugar – I don’t mind a little natural vanilla or chilli flavour.
Top tip if you’re not up for making your own: Willie’s 72% Cacao bars (Online or Waitrose/Selfridges/Liberties) are by far the best I have come across…
But why not give the home-made chocs a go? It’s really easy and fun! For the healthiest chocolates, personally I think it is best to go raw, as none of the nutritive value will be lost through heat treatment.
The basic ingredients you will need are:
Raw Cacao Butter
Raw Cacao Powder
You can get the best deals shopping around online, but you can also get these ingredients from health food shops too. They may not seem cheap but remember you can eat less and get more, because the final result is more nutrient dense and satisfying! 🙂
Raw chocolate; if you have ever tried it, is naturally quite bitter. For sweetening your chocolate there are many options. One thing to consider: how much of a sweet tooth do you really have? Many people don’t think they do have a sweet tooth until they cut out sugar completely for a few days. Try it – I dare you! That means eating no fruit too (“nature’s candy”) – just eat fish, chicken, meat, plain nuts, seeds and vegetables for three days and just drink water and see how you go. The more you crave the sweet stuff the more of a sugar addict you probably are; but the interesting thing about this process is that you will be able to re-train your taste buds and in fact you will start to appreciate the sweetness of things like raw carrots. But don’t worry I am not suggesting you sweeten your home-made chocolate with raw carrots!
Here are some of my sweetening suggestions:
Coconut Palm Sugar – OK, I know what I said about sugar but this is unprocessed and tastes delicious and although this type is still high GI it is quite a bit lower than the highly processed white stuff; plus you can control how much you put it. 😉
Dried Prunes or Dates: (for truffles) these work really well and again, although high GI, they have the added advantage of being high in fibre which I believe helps slow the sugar hit down.
Agave Syrup: Although advertised as a low GI sweetener that is a healthy alternative to sugar, Agave syrup is more a triumph of marketing over science. It is highly processed and it will raise your insulin levels in the same way high fructose corn syrup does. But remember you are in the driving seat when you make your own goodies, so you can control how much you put in!
Honey: another option that is on the high GI side – so go easy… I think the milder tasting honey works the best.
Maple Syrup: A nice cold pressed maple syrup tastes wonderful and is full of lovely minerals but again, it is on the high GI side of the fence so less can be more!
Lucuma Powder: comes from the Peruvian Lucuma fruit. Although it tastes really sweet and creamy it actually is a great Low GI alternative to sugar and the added plus point is, it contains Potassium, Iron, Calcium, Phosphorus, Fibre and lots of B vits. Hoorah! Shop around for the best price online, or you can get it in health food shops. Outside of Peru, this is most commonly sold as a fine powder. The fruit is dried at low temperatures and milled into a fine powder, so dissolves really easily which makes it great to work with when making chocolate.
Cashews: (For truffles) I find Cashews have a natural sweetness and Almonds do too. If you soak them over night in water you actually awaken the natural “live” properties of the nut making them more nutrient dense. After soaking you need to rinse them and then blitz them into a smooth paste in a food processor. They add a nice flavourful, sweet, protein-rich addition to truffles. If you have a nut allergy you can replace nuts with soaked and “blitzed” seeds like Sunflower or Hemp.
Xylitol: you know, the stuff they put in chewing gum & mints?… So of course “Tooth friendly!” Bonus! It is naturally found in low concentrations in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables and is recommended as an alternative to sugar for diabetics, as it apparently does not contribute to high blood sugar levels. It is not toxic to humans, but is however, highly toxic to dogs, so if you have any pooches in your house, please take care that they don’t get their paws on it!
As an aside: consume too much Xylitol and it can have a laxative effect, ‘nough said! Also I have found it works ok in hot/cold drinks and also chocolate truffles but not so well making things like custard or cakes… This is a much better alternative to artificial sweeteners, like Aspartame which has been linked to many health problems…
The best thing about making your own chocolate is you can really experiment with flavours and sweetness. I actually did a kind of spice “wheel” plate and had great fun playing around with the flavours:
Vanilla Pod, Smoked Paprika, Curry Powder, Ginger, Lavender, Cinnamon, Coffee, Lime… Tequila (just a teeny tiny amount 😉 …)
Coconut Manna (again shop online or from health food store) is great for making truffles as it has a really lovely, creamy texture. Coconut Manna is full of fibre, protein and healthy fats and makes a great alternative to milk or cream in recipes. It is also delicious added to fruit smoothies.
Okay down to the biz:
You need to start by melting the Cacao butter very gently, you don’t want to “cook” it, you just want to gently loosen/ooze it into a liquid…
See how I’ve put an upturned bowl in the water and placed the Cacao butter bowl on top of that, so it does not actually touch the water (less aggressive this way) and then a lid on top. The slower & gentler this process, the better. Perhaps my drawing explains it better:
It gently melts into a lovely amber coloured liquid:
For a basic white chocolate recipe you can play around with the flavours and amounts but this is a good start:
100g Raw Cacao Butter, slowly melted.
1-2 tsp Lucuma Powder
A touch of additional sweetener of your choice – (I would recommend a syrupy option for ease here but if you want to try using the coconut sugar or the Xylitol I would recommend stirring the mixture until it is it is fully disolved so you don’t get a grainy texture.
A little grated citrus rind (orange, Clementine or Mandarin work well)
A Squeeze of whichever citrus fruit you chose from above
Pinch of Cinnamon (slows the rate at which the sugars are metabolised – flavour and a bonus! 🙂 )
Pinch of Himalayan salt (contains 84 trace elements for an added health boost!)
A touch of vanilla – scrape a few seeds from a fresh pod or 1tsp natural vanilla essence
Once you have your melted Cacao butter add the remaining ingredients and stir well for about 3-5 minutes until you have a smooth consistency then pour into chocolate silicon moulds, rest for 10 minutes to cool a bit and then place in the fridge for at least one hour before turning out.
For the darker chocolate version you do the same as above. But you also add 3-4 tbsp of raw Cacao powder (I found it was best to sieve it in to get rid of any lumps). This will make it a bit more bitter so you might need a touch more of your chosen sweetener. I left out the citrus zest/juice and added a pinch of Cayenne pepper which added a subtle kick! I also tried a sprinkle of Lavender on some chocolates which added a little floral flourish!
A little wonky on the fridge shelf and my chocs were tipsy! 😉
To be honest though my favourites are the truffles as I feel you can be a little more robust with the flavours and textures.
I used a basic prune or date paste base, (basically the dried fruit is blitzed in the food processor to make a paste) I then added the melted Cacao butter, Cacao powder and any additional flavourings. So roughly the basic base recipe is:
Basic Truffle recipe:
50g Prune paste or Date paste (Prune paste really compliments the chocolate flavours, Date paste does too, but is a lot sweeter)
4-6 tbsp (depending on how dark you want it) Cacao powder (plus a little extra for dusting)
2 tbsp Cacoa Butter (melted)
1 tbsp Coconut manna or Soaked nuts/seed paste
1-2tsp Lucuma powder to taste (optional)
Pinch of Himalayan salt
If you need a little help combining it all you can loosen the mixture further with a little more melted Cacao butter or if you prefer, a little melted coconut oil.
Party Truffles (additional flavours to add to basic recipe)
Zest of 1 lime (leave a little aside for decoration)
Juice of 1/2 lime
Pinch of Cayenne pepper
2 tsp Tequilla (cheeky!)
Finally, a little Coconut sugar and Cacao powder for dusting/rolling the truffles in which are then finished with a sliver of Lime zest on top. Place in the fridge for at least an hour to chill down and set.
My second batch had the basic recipe above but I used Cinnamon as an additional flavour by rolling the truffles in this.
For my third batch I used Date paste with Smoked paprika and finished with a good dusting of Cacao powder.
Ginger and Lime anyone? I used Date paste for these and finished them off with some pumpkin seeds to decorate.
One of my favourite combos was Garam Masala, I used a pinch with the prune paste and topped with mint. Sounds kind of wrong doesn’t it? Curry and Chocolate… but it really works!
I also tried some prune paste based truffles, dusting/rolling them in a little ground coffee and cinnamon – go easy if you are caffeine sensitive.
All these chocolates and truffles actually freeze really well so you can put some batches aside for a rainy day and a little “mood food” pick me up! They also make a great end to a dinner party!
There are endless possibilities with home-made chocolates, that are not only fun but also full of health giving wonders! Enjoy! 🙂