Friday, February 12, 2010

Only the Best for That Special Valentine

The Sweetheart Box ($49) from Chuao Chocolatier contains 22 assorted bonbons and tuffles. Chuao products are available online and at Whole Foods. Photo courtesy of Chuao Chocolatier.

VALENTINE’s Day is only two days away. No worries, procrastinators and slow pokes still have time to pick up a nice box of chocolates for their significant others as a symbol of their affection.

In this increasingly globalized and complicated world, with its myriad choices and upgrades, shopping can be as mind-boggling as a new smart phone. Gladly, when shopping for chocolate one need only consider buying healthy and, buying fair trade.

By now, the myriad health benefits of chocolate have reached the ears of chocoholics everywhere. Credit, however, goes mainly to dark chocolate, not milk chocolate. According to the World Atlas of Chocolate, the United States is the 11 largest chocolate-consuming nation in the world. A huge portion of this $15 billion to $20 billion is spent on milk chocolate, a key ingredient in the chocolate bars and chocolate frosting/cake that arouses our collective sweet tooth.

But most any doctor with a certificate on the wall will tell you that dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate mainly because it is far less processed. It retains significantly more of the nutrients of the cocoa plant (from which chocolate is made). Do confirm these claims with your personal physician if you have any doubts. My favorite doctor is not the one forced on me by my health plan, but Mehmet Oz (and his posse) of “Oprah” fame and most recently of his own popular “Dr. Oz Show."

To the question on Dr. O's Web site, “How does real chocolate — not milk chocolate — benefit the brain,” Dr. O's colleague, Michael Roizen wrote, “Real chocolate raises dopamine levels and provides flavonoids, which keep arteries young and the brain healthy. Enjoy 1 ounce a day (to replace milk chocolate) and your RealAge will become 1.2 years younger."

Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods with potent antioxidant properties. They are in a vast range of foods and beverages, including cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. Flavonoids also get credit for lowering blood pressure and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Another consideration in procuring chocolate is the source. Allow me to explain, but first a little background. All chocolate begins with cocoa beans, the fruit of the cocoa tree (aka cacao). It is commonly believed that the tree comes from somewhere in South or Central America. The cacao tree is a tropical plant that can only thrive in hot, rainy climates like those found in Brazil, Costa Rica and Venezuela. And Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.

Unfortunately, there is a problem of labor abuses around the production of the cocoa beans. Western Africa accounts for most of the world’s cocoa bean production, while Europe and the United States account for most of the world’s cocoa consumption.

In some of these cocoa-producing countries, particularly Cote d’Ivoire – the world’s largest single producer of cocoa beans, there have been accusations of child labor abuses and child slavery. There is also the issue of tariffs imposed by cocoa importers, which is a detriment to farmers and to the economies of their producer countries. A number of organizations and groups, including the United Nations and Stop Chocolate Slavery, has been working to ensure that these practices be illuminated and eradicated. Stop Chocolate Slavery, for instance, lists on its Web site chocolate-producers that deal in Fair Trade chocolate, organic chocolate, or chocolate otherwise believed to be slavery-free. Alas, the biggest chocolate producers in the United States – are you listening Hershey, Mars and Nestle? – are not on the list. It seems they are not on the forefront of these movements despite paying lip service to the atrocious practices.

Chocolate buyers beware and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Visit Chuao Chocolatier at; World Atlas of Chocolate at, and the Web site of Mehmet Oz at Learn about some of the companies producing fair chocolate at the Web site of Stop Chocolate Slavery at

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