Plants produce antioxidants in an effort to survive the harsh environment. These beneficial compounds are enjoyed by people who eat those plants. This is one reason vegetarianism is so popular. Antioxidants are believed to reduce many illnesses such as heart problems and cancer. These antioxidants are plentiful in dark chocolate, which contains cocoa, and are linked to improved cholesterol levels and blood pressure, as well as improved blood flow.
Scientists have determined that after eating just 45 grams of dark chocolate, the level of epicatechin and catechin, two important antioxidants, are raised. Antioxidants protect the cells from dangerous free radicals, which can change and damage healthy cells. The damage done by free radicals is considered to be at the root of a number of chronic illnesses. It is antioxidants that enter the body and rid it of the free radicals. As we age, our body's antioxidants become less powerful, and the best way to improve their usefulness is by eating foods rich in antioxidants. That is why we eat fruits and vegetables. Now, we can add chocolate to that list.
Chocolate contains the same antioxidants found in oranges, berries, and soybeans, grapes, green tea, and red wine. In chocolate, the antioxidants are highly concentrated, comprising more than 10 percent of its weights.
It's a long and complicated road from cacao bean to chocolate bar. Just about all cacao beans are grown on small, family-owned farms in the tropics. There are about 3.5 million cacao farms in the world. Cacao starts with a funny-looking cacao tree, which has large pods. It's the pods that hold the cacao beans. Each tree grows 30 pods each year, or about 1000 cacao beans. 500 beans are needed for one pounds of bittersweet chocolate, which means that yearly, a tree yields enough for 2 pounds of chocolate.
Cacao farming is done entirely by hands. Pods are removed by hand and are opened by hand. The beans are then removed, also by hand. Then the beans are dried and fermented, which activates the sugary taste. Once the beans are dried, they are shipped throughout the world to chocolate manufacturers. The coveted chocolate flavor is achieved by roasting. The resultant chocolate butter and chocolate liquor are used to make the chocolate by adding vanilla and sugar and blending. Milk chocolate has milk added to it, but it is the bittersweet chocolate that is the most nutritious. During the Middle Ages in Europe, chocolate was considered a health food, especially good for pregnant women.