Sunday, March 9, 2008

Crazy For Cacao

When I was little I liked everything white. White bread, white rice, white tortillas, and vanilla ice cream were prevalent in my chubby girl diet. Back then chocolate was just too much for my developing taste buds to handle. But now that I'm 'all grown up' I'm a chocolate devotee- one might even say an addict.

I eat chocolate on a regular basis and I don't feel guilty about it. That's because I eat dark chocolate that's full of antioxidants in addition to pure deliciousness. Since I've become accustomed to the rich, deep flavors of dark chocolate, I don't touch white (which doesn't contain real chocolate) and I only eat milk in desperation.

Farmer preparing dried cocoa beans- REUTERS/Daniel LeClair

I read an interesting article about the surge of gourmet chocolate production in Central America that prompted this post. It was really neat to learn that my love of chocolate is reviving farms and communities in the poorest of countries such as Belize and Guatemala. The demand for organic "fair trade" chocolate has sent Central America's cocoa output soaring; it's gone up 40 percent over the last three years (Reuters). I never knew what the term fair trade meant before, but Wikipedia informed me that it's a pledge from companies to pay third-world farmers a fair amount for crops in addition to promoting social and environmental standards.

Cocoa beans in cacao pod- Dagoba website

The best places to find good chocolate are health food stores such as Whole Foods or Wild Oats. When looking for the highest quality chocolate a good rule of thumb is to check the ingredients. If the first ingredient is sugar then move on. I look for cacao or cocoa beans listed first. Cacao pods come from the cacao tree and contain cocoa beans which look like dark almonds. They are chocolate in its most raw form.

My favorite brand of chocolate is Dagoba, especially the infused varieties such as lime or cherry. The company was started in 2001 by a 30-year-old chocolate lover named Frederick Schilling who wanted to create some dang good chocolate and help people out while doing it. I'm sure those farmers in Central America appreciate him! Another surprisingly good choice is Hershey's Cacao Reserve bars available at your neighborhood grocer.

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