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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Sweetest Week

MSN Lifestyle

Chocolate TrufflesMonday saw the start of British Chocolate Week (October 16-22) - the perfect excuse for sweet lovers everywhere to celebrate chocolate's life-saving and enhancing qualities. For chocoholics chocolate is so much more than a treat - nothing else is stable at room temperature, melts at just below body temperature and tastes so good.

Good quality chocolate should contain a minimum cocoa content of 60%+ for dark and 30%+ for milk, and it shouldn't contain E numbers, hydrogenated fats or artificial preservatives.

It should feel silky, not sticky, to the touch and just begin to yield to the warmth of your finger. It should snap cleanly - no splinters or crumbles.

Chocolate should melt in the mouth immediately, and have a smooth and buttery texture. Flavour should linger for several minutes - good chocolate can linger for up to 45 minutes.

With a manner previously reserved for wine, people are now discerning about the difference between fine chocolate and confectionery chocolate. The latter may be addictive because of its sugar content, but it doesn't compare for flavour and quality with fine chocolate. Most are now searching for the intensely dark and exciting sort that floods the taste buds with overtones of spice, fruit and cocoa.

Chocolate is a favourite food globally and chocolate lovers are becoming more willing to experiment with the sweet, using it in different ways in food, as recognition to its incredible versatility.

Reasons to Enjoy

Melted chocolate in a cup with strawberriesItalian researchers report that women who eat chocolate regularly have a better sex life than those who deny themselves the treat. Those consuming the sugary snack had the highest levels of desire, arousal and satisfaction from sex.

Chocolate may lower blood pressure. Dutch scientists found it contains chemicals called flavan-3 oils linked to lower blood pressure, and it contains catechins which may protect against heart disease and cancer.

Troublesome winter coughs could benefit from a chocolate bar according to American research. Theobromine in chocolate is thought to suppress the activity of the vagus nerve which causes coughing.

Dark chocolate has also been said to possess the highest antioxidant content of any food. Chocolates contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and, in milk chocolate, calcium. But it is the antioxidants and the flavonoids which boost good HDL cholesterol levels that have chocoholics dancing in pagan delight. The flavonoids in chocolate work in a similar manner to a very low dose of aspirin to prevent blood platelets from clumping together to form a blood clot. The flavonoids are in the cocoa. None are present in white chocolate, and milk chocolate is diluted by sugar and milk. Dark, bittersweet chocolate is better, and simple cocoa (with even less fat than unsweetened chocolate) is best.

Green tea, black tea, red wine, and blueberries all contain flavonoids, but none are as high as chocolate. However, before chocolate enthusiasts break out candy bars they should remember that one ounce a day is enough - chocolate has calories and can lead to weight problems.

Pictures courtesy of MSN and portakal ağacı (a top quality food blog in Turkish).

For more about chocolate also see: Valentine's Day Special 2007: Dark Fancies

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