The Cocoa Plant

Cocoa Pod on Cocoa Tree - Dreams of Chocolate
Cocoa Tree Pod

I have finally found the man of my dreams and the fact that he owns a chocolate factory has everything to do with it.

Chocolate factories, unlike cocoa beans, don’t grow on trees and – let’s face it – a girl needs to be practical about her obsessions.

Chocolate has a momentum of its own, with such an unfailing ability to entrap its helpless victim, that every bar of chocolate ought to carry its own health advice. How about: “Go on, eat it and then just watch as your energy levels and motivation sag” or even “WARNING: Your bum really will look big after eating this”…

People become choc-addicted for different reasons. Some may need their serotonin or endorphin levels boosting, for an instant uplifting effect. Some may require the extra minerals, but to be honest, there is more magnesium in bananas and more iron in broccoli. For most people, I suspect, chocolate is simply the ultimate in sugar-replacement-comfort therapy and therefore very difficult to give up. My advice is to treat yourself deliberately now and again to the best (not most) chocolate you can afford. Eat and enjoy, but ensure that your diet otherwise is also the best you can manage.

The cocoa tree was first cultivated in South America and is now widely grown in West Africa. The ripe yellow cocoa pods are cut from the trunk of the tree which thrives only in countries within 20 degrees of the equator. The pods are split open one by one and the beans scooped out for fermenting and drying. Once the beans are dry, they are roasted to reduce any bitter flavour. Finally, the beans are ground to produce cocoa butter and cocoa liquor.

White chocolate is based on cocoa butter, the fat from the bean. It is also added back into chocolate to provide a smooth texture. Solid cocoa liquor is just unsweetened baking chocolate. For milk chocolate, add cocoa butter, vanilla, milk and sugar. Chocolate manufacturers all have secret refining processes to produce their own special brand.

Chocolate contains the stimulants caffeine and theobromine which speed up heartbeat and the central nervous system. In fact, a small 125g (4 oz) bar of dark chocolate contains more caffeine than a cup of instant coffee! The feel-good-factor is attributed to the chemical theobromine. As chocolate also tends to contain large amounts of sugar, it is used by many people as an instant lift when energy levels are low.

The problem is that we may start relying too heavily on chocolate for an energy fix instead of more nutritious foods. If this applies to you, reduce your intake gradually over several weeks and replace it with fruit and nut bars or other acceptable alternatives. The best time for a woman to give up the bean is at the beginning of her menstrual cycle – she should find her chocolate cravings considerably reduced the next time PMS hits home. Once you have achieved better control of your blood sugar balance and are no longer subject to intense cravings, irritability or fatigue, there is no harm in enjoying the occasional nibble.

© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus June 2001

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