Celebrate the joys and benefits of chocolate
When it comes to understanding the chemistry and nutrition of chocolate, Dr. Joe Vinson’s findings are just delicious.
The University of Scranton professor is an expert on chocolate and antioxidants who enjoys sharing the news that chocolate (in moderation, of course) isn’t bad for your health. In fact, it’s actually good for you.
Can you hear the collective sigh of relief from chocoholics across the land? With 36 million people receiving heart-shaped boxes of chocolate on Valentine’s Day*, this is indeed good news. “For those people who want to eat chocolate, I’m not going to tell them not to,” Vinson said.
Vinson’s studies were not funded by chocolate companies and his group had unknown samples to measure. On a quest for antioxidants, cocoa came out the winner, boasting the most antioxidants. Dark chocolate offers the second most, and milk chocolate finishes in third place.
This made us wonder, where does white chocolate fit into the antioxidant mix?
Well, it comes up short. White chocolate has zero antioxidants. “The worst thing you can eat is white chocolate,” Dr. Vinson said.
Antioxidants are important because they protect our cells against the effect of free radicals, which are the molecules produced when your body breaks down food or by environmental exposures, such as tobacco smoke and radiation. According to the National Institute of Health, free radicals can damage cells and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.
If you want to buy chocolate that is high in antioxidants, Dr. Vinson said to read those labels. In the last five years, chocolate companies started to indicate the percentage of cocoa on chocolate bar labels. “If you look at the percentage, it pretty well mirrors the percentage of antioxidant concentration,” Dr. Vinson said. “So if you consume 70 percent versus 35 cocoa, you’re getting twice as many antioxidants. The more, the merrier.”
He also suggested opting for dark chocolate instead of milk if you don’t find dark chocolate to be too bitter. “Don’t consume milk chocolate if you can handle dark. The darker, the better, for the best effect on your health. Look at the label. Pick the least expensive bar with the highest percent of cocoa that you can handle.” Once you make your selection, he advises not to binge eat, no matter how tempted you might be. “Take that 45-gram bar and break it in pieces. Eat it periodically throughout the day. It makes me full and then I don’t want to snack.” The good professor really does practice what he preaches; he had chocolate on his desk. Eat a small amount periodically throughout the day.
Last, but certainly not least, our chocolate expert left us with one of the happiest tidbits of information we may have ever heard: there is no evidence from supplementation studies that chocolate causes weight gain. (Keep in mind: people in these studies aren’t consuming multiple bars a day and the studies are short-term). Still, we find this reason to celebrate.
“Chocolate is a super snack,” Dr. Vinson said, noting there is research to support it’s beneficial to your heart and your brain. “So have some chocolate, and make sure it’s dark.”
To learn more about Dr. Vinson’s studies, visit http://academic.scranton.edu/faculty/vinson/.
— julie imel
*Source: National Confectioners Association
Lessons from the Candy Freak
“Every now and then, I’ll run into someone who claims not to like chocolate, and while we live in a country where everyone has the right to eat what they want, I want to say for the record that I don’t trust these people, that I think something is wrong with them, and that they’re probably — and this must be said — total duds in bed.”
— Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
We learned a few things from reading Steve Almond’s Candyfreak, such as:
- Ever wonder why the 3 Musketeers chocolate covered whipped chocolate candy bar was named after a 19th century Alexandre Dumas novel? Common (Wikipedia) knowledge has it that when M&M/Mars introduced the confection in 1932, there were actually three pieces — chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. World War II sugar rationing led to a phasing out of the vanilla and strawberry sections, as the chocolate was deemed the most popular of the three.
- Nestle’s Baby Ruth (originally the Curtiss Candy Company of Chicago’s Kandy Kake) was not named after baseball legend Babe Ruth but actually President Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth Cleveland. Or so claimed Curtiss which just happened to be located at on the same street as Wrigley Field and who introduced the candy bar in 1932, three decades after Cleveland’s presidency. An evasion of royalty payments to Ruth? Probably.
- Most of the candy we buy today is made by the big three companies – Hershey, Nestle, and Mars – and one of the main means by which they’ve managed to eliminate the competition from independent and family manufactures is the slotting fee. Major supermarkets and bib box retailers actually charge manufacturers exorbitant fees (up to $20-25,000) to stock their products – prominent checkout aisle candy display is particularly pricey.
- Rainbow colored Necco wafers were first manufactured in 1847 and were carried by Union solders in the Civil War. Later, during WWII, the U.S. Government commissioned the company to produce wafers specifically for soldiers serving abroad. Yes, Necco is the manufacturer of the classic Valentine’s conversation Sweethearts which come in an all chocolate box as well as familiar rainbow colors. They’ve been making Sweethears since 1902. (http://www.necco.com/Seasonal/Valentines/Chocolate-Sweethearts%C2%AE.aspx)
— alicia grega
Valentine’s Day chocolate, fondue & fun for a good cause
Spending Valentine’s Day dipping treats into melted, gourmet chocolate all for the benefit of a good cause— what’s not to love?
Wilkes University is holding “I’m Very Fondue of You,” a unique Valentine’s Day event to raise money for the Alternative Spring Break community service program. The event will feature mocktails, a romantic comedy film and, of course, lots of chocolate fondue. Fondue flavors will include semi-sweet, strawberry and champagne.
The chocolate will be provided by Sugar Plum Chocolates, a premium chocolate business based in Forty Fort. The owner, Neil Edley, said he’s hoping a lot people come out to enjoy the treats and, most importantly, support the cause.
“First and foremost, we are hoping for a great turnout because every penny goes toward this amazing organization and their work,” Edley said.
Edley said he wanted to help out right away when he heard about the cause. “Charitable giving is at the core of Sugar Plum’s business and when they told me about the great things they would be doing over spring break, it melted my chocolate heart,” Edley said.
Alternative Spring Break is a cultural volunteer opportunity for students to travel across the country and overseas to lend a helping hand. Their service efforts include disaster relief, home building and repair and educating children in orphanages. Proceeds will pay for more than 100 students to travel to Kentucky, New Orleans, Missouri, Costa Rica and The Dominican Republic.
Another feature of the event will be a screening of “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.”
— kirstin cook
I’m Very Fondue of You will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14 in the Ballroom of the Wilkes University’s Henry Student Center. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door. The event is open to the public.
Three fantastic chocolate finds
I love me a good old fashioned brownie a la mode. It’s the perfect combination of different textured sweets (brownie, ice cream, whipped cream and the presence or absence of the cherry on top) with both hot and cold temperatures. That’s what comes to mind when I think of chocolate. I enjoy chocolate cake and a peanut butter cup here and there, but as far as the other stuff; it really doesn’t do much for me. So here are three of my picks for unique chocolate gifts. Keep in mind, two of them involve booze and the last one involves a trip to the spa and drinking booze which is always a nifty treat, isn’t it?
1. Chocolate Shot Glasses
Just when you thought shots of your favorite booze couldn’t get any better, you can transform that glass into a delicious edible chocolate treat and have yourself a whole new way of experiencing little nips of whiskey all through the night. (With that in mind, is there such thing as a strong, sturdy chocolate spoon for ice cream lovers?) The chocolate shooters are available at many chocolate stores and online.
2. Bottles Drizzled with Swiss Chocolate
You can have your favorite bottle of anything (vino, booze, sparkling wine, even olive oil) drizzled in chocolate by Chocolate Creations in Scranton and Peckville. The bottle is covered with Swiss chocolate and presented in decorative gift wrap. Chocolate lovers can open the bottle, unravel the string and watch as pieces of chocolate fall off of the bottle right into your hands. You can find out more by visiting www.chocolatecreations.us.
3. Spa Yourself All Chocolaty
For those looking to get really close to chocolate, Alexander’s Spa, Scranton, offers a Chocolate Truffle Body Wrap. According to their site, cocoa beans nourish and moisturize the skin to protect it against signs of aging. This revitalizing wrap helps to stimulate natural drainage, tones the skin, and combats cellulite and stretch marks while the intense aroma of chocolate soothes the senses. Visit www.alexandersspa.info to find out more.
The Sapphire Salon, Pittston and Moosic, offer a “Strawberry, Chocolate and Champagne Package” featuring a sauna and steam session, a strawberry infused facial, a chocolate mud body masque with massage, and a champagne pedicure. The entire service is served with chocolate covered strawberries and champagne. Go to www.thesapphiresalon.com for more information.
— tom graham