The bittersweet truth about chocolate -


The bittersweet truth about chocolate

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How many candy bars do you consume each year? Think it's only a handful? Well, think again.

Most Americans eat 11 pounds of chocolate per year according to the International Cocoa Organization.

However, this number may not be entirely accurate because food experts at Johnson & Wales University tell us much of this 'sweet treat' is more 'food technology.'

The truth about the chocolate we eat can't be sugar coated.

Robert Epskamp is a chef with Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, NC.

When it comes to chocolate bars, Epskamp says, "You shouldn't find anything else in there, you shouldn't find oils."

Manufacturers, however, will often include oils in chocolate products.

Epskamp says the primary reason why they do this is to save money.

"The bottom line is, cocoa butter is expensive," Epskamp said.

Many major candy companies are cutting the high cost of their ingredients list and creating more self-stable products by replacing the cocoa butter, or the oil of the chocolate plant that makes their candies and bars, with cheaper vegetable oils and wax-based products.

The ingredient list of high-quality chocolate is simple – cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, milk solids and an emulsifier called lecithin.

"There more things on that [ingredients] list, the likelihood of you eating something that's not chocolate is probably pretty high," Epskamp warned.

You won't likely find wax or oil listed on most of the chocolate bars we purchase because they have chemical names that are often withheld as a 'trade secret' or are not considered an ingredient at all because wax, for example, is not actually food.

"It's difficult, unless you have a background in chemistry, to really figure out what you are eating," Epskamp said.

So, how can a consumer tell the difference in high-quality chocolates, and those that are not?

First, start with your taste buds. Lower-quality candies will have a super sweet, chalky, gritty taste, and will take a while to melt in your mouth.

In 2007, the Chocolate Manufacturers Association lobbied the Food & Drug Administration to change the definition of chocolate to allow the substitution of vegetable oil for cocoa butter, but the FDA refused to do so.

So, look for labels like "milk chocolate" and "semi-sweet" as compared to "chocolate flavored" or "chocolate coating."

"If you put good things in, you get good things out, but unfortunately, that usually costs you money," Epskamp said.

If you really want high-quality chocolate, be prepared to pay anywhere between $8-16 per pound.

In most cases, using vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter doesn't dramatically alter the calorie or fat content, but it does take away cocoa butter's health benefits because it removes the antioxidant properties.

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