You know by now that chocolate is good for you. But all those stats and scientific findings—it reduces the risk of stroke and heart disease, protects against cancer, boosts brain power, improves skin tone, and lowers inflammation—speak to the head, not the heart. And we all know that chocolate is all about love, excitement, and passion.
What are some of the more emotional reasons to get so worked up about chocolate? Here are the top five:
- Chocolate makes the brain release opioids, chemicals found in morphine and heroin, that promote a feeling of euphoria and well-being.
- Chocolate makes us feel more alive. The caffeine content alone of dark chocolate can increase pulse, heart rate, and alertness; chocolate also contains phenylethylamine, a chemical that has effects much like amphetamines. It’s a feeling of alertness, not unlike the feeling you get in the early stages of romance—very different from a slap-in-the-face coffee buzz.
- Chocolate stimulates cannabinoid receptors in the brain, the same receptors that are stimulated by tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main chemical in marijuana. (There’s no THC in chocolate, so you’re not breaking any laws.)
- Chocolate makes us feel loved. Chocolate has long been used as a display of affection, and the confections at Valentine’s Day have been a symbol of devotion for hundreds of years. Doesn’t your heart go pitter-patter when you see a big heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates?
- Chocolate is a mild aphrodisiac. Well, that’s an old Aztec legend, anyway. And one study showed that women who eat chocolate daily have more sex than women who don’t. Is it simply that women who have a love of chocolate also tend to be more lusty, robust sorts? Or is it that chocolate makes us feel so good, we just want to share that feeling?
Whatever the case, you can start feeling jollier, lustier, and more loved right now, with some of these seriously happy-making recipes.
Hazelnut Torte with Chocolate Ganache
Serves 24 (Makes one 9-inch cake)
The secret to this healthful but indulgent torte is finely ground “nut meal.” Toast the hazelnuts in a large, dry skillet for 3 to 5 minutes, until just fragrant. You can also substitute almonds for half of the hazelnuts, if you wish.
2 1/2 cups toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup gluten-free flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup evaporated cane juice or Sucanat
5 eggs, room temperature
2 Tbs. melted coconut oil, plus additional for greasing pan
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 ounces shaved or very finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 cup coconut milk
24 whole hazelnuts for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil the sides of a 9-inch springform pan; cut a piece of parchment into a circle the size of the bottom of the pan, and set parchment into pan.
- Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor or blender into a fine meal but not a powder. Transfer to a large bowl and add flour, baking powder, salt, and cane juice. Whisk to blend.
- Separate egg whites and yolks into two separate bowls. Add coconut oil, vanilla extract, and 1/2 cup of the coconut milk to the egg yolk mixture, and beat well to combine. Stir yolk mixture into the nut mixture. Set aside.
- Beat egg whites until stiff but still glossy. Gently fold whites into nut mixture, a little at a time, stirring only enough to incorporate. Pour mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove sides of pan, invert cake over a serving platter, and remove bottom. Peel off parchment and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
- While cake stands, heat remaining 1/2 cup coconut milk to a low simmer, being careful not to boil. Put the shaved chocolate in a bowl and pour coconut milk over it, stirring and mixing with rubber spatula until completely melted. Let stand 5 to 7 minutes while cake cools.
- To serve, dust completely cooled cake with additional cocoa powder (use a sifter for even dusting). Pour ganache over the cake, starting at center, and letting it flow outward to drizzle down sides of cake. Arrange whole hazelnuts around the perimeter of the cake. Serve immediately.
PER SERVING: 197 CAL; 4 G PROT; 15 G TOTAL FAT (5 G SAT FAT); 14 G CARB; 44 MG CHOL; 67 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 9 G SUGARS
Pot au Chocolate—Coconut Cakes
Serves 6 (Makes six individual cakes)
These miniature cakes are a take on the classic pot de crème au chocolate. Serve them piping hot out of the oven, when they’re still gooey, with a small scoop of nondairy ice cream or a dollop of cold whipped cream. To toast the coconut, warm it in a skillet over medium heat until golden.
3/4 cup finely ground gluten-free flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa
1/4 cup coconut oil, softened (oil should be creamy, not hard, but not completely melted)
1/4 cup evaporated cane juice
1/2 cup honey
3 egg whites
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup toasted coconut
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa together into a large bowl and set aside.
- Combine coconut oil, cane juice, and honey in a medium bowl and beat with a hand-held mixer on medium for 3 to 4 minutes, until creamy and well blended. Add egg and egg whites, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
- Gently fold flour mixture and chopped chocolate into the egg mixture. Fold in coconut. Transfer mixture into six individual 4-ounce ramekins, and arrange ramekins on a baking sheet.
- Bake cakes on baking sheet for 20 minutes, until slightly puffed. Remove from oven and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Serve hot.
PER SERVING: 429 CAL; 8 G PROT; 23 G TOTAL FAT (17 G SAT FAT); 60 G CARB; 35 MG CHOL; 287 MG SOD; 8 G FIBER; 39 G SUGARS
Sweet talk: Chocolate Terminology
Chocolate has its own language. Here are some of the key terms:
Chocolate liquor. This is pure chocolate in its most unadulterated form. It’s made from cocoa beans that have been dried, roasted, removed from their shells, ground into a paste (cocoa mass), and then melted.
Cocoa butter is the creamy, fatty portion of the cocoa bean that’s extracted from the mass. It’s the main component of white chocolate.
Semisweet chocolate. Made by combining chocolate liquor with cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla, it has a dark, rich flavor that’s favored by most chocolate aficionados.
Milk chocolate is made the same way as semisweet chocolate, but with milk solids and additional sugar, which give it a creamy, sweet flavor and texture.
Raw cacao nibs are made by crushing the fermented but unroasted husked cacao bean into bits.
Serves 12 (Makes 38 truffles)
These creamy truffles have a subtle, smoky bite from the chipotle powder. If you like a more fiery chocolate, add up to 1/2 tsp. more chipotle powder. You can also substitute regular chili powder for the chipotle.
1/2 cup almond milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 Tbs. honey
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, shaved or very finely chopped
2 Tbs. coconut oil
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup finely ground toasted almonds
- Combine almond milk, vanilla extract, chili powder, and honey in a small saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Place chocolate in a large bowl and pour hot milk mixture over. Stir with a rubber spatula until all the chocolate is melted and smooth. If some hard pieces remain, put the bowl of chocolate in a pot of very hot water, being careful not to get water into the chocolate mixture, and continue stirring until all of the chocolate melts. Stir in coconut oil, and stir until melted and smooth. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, until firm but not hard.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a melon baller, scoop out balls and roll between your palms until even and smooth. Scatter cocoa powder on one plate, and almonds on another. Roll half of the truffles in cocoa to coat; roll the remaining truffles in ground almonds.
- To serve, arrange on a serving platter or individual plates and serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
PER SERVING: 183 CAL; 3 G PROT; 13 G TOTAL FAT (8 G SAT FAT); 19 G CARB; 0 MG CHOL; 9 MG SOD; 3 G FIBER; 14 G SUGARS
Did You Take Your Cocoa Today?
Cocoa in supplement form, including capsules and chews, is a hot supplement trend. Genuine Health’s Healthy Skin Chocolate soft chews, which contain skin-smoothing cocoa extract, and ReserveAge Organics’ soon-to-be released Cocoawell line of supplements (featuring cocoa extract for brain health, energy, weight loss, and more) are two examples of cocoa-inspired products. You’ll also find the reverse—yummy chocolate bars and candies infused with nutrients, including Hero Nutritionals’ Healthy Indulgence New Dark Chocolate bars (available in bone wise, daily wellness, and two other varieties) and udo’s decadent omega truffles from flora (with a serving of essential fatty acids). Not a bad way to get your daily fix of chocolate, huh?