February 21, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Cocoa

I always buy Hershey's Cocoa (natural unsweetened) in the 8 oz. container.

When I asked my husband to get some more, he came home with a package that was more expensive looking and said on the front: Hershey's Cocoa (100% cacao) and in a pretty section, red background, gold letters: "SPECIAL DARK [trademark symbol] A BLEND OF NATURAL AND DUTCHED COCOAS."

The ingredients list for the former product reads: cocoa (there is a U in a circle, no idea what that means).

The new product list reads: cocoa, cocoa processed with alkali.

They do include in the fine print on the side of the package the statement that "...HERSHEY'S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa provides fewer antioxidants than HERSHEY'S Natural Unsweetened Cocoa.)

What is going on?

-- Maria (last name withheld)
(city withheld), AZ

The first distinction that needs to be made here is between cocoa powder and chocolate; too many people get them confused!

In order to make cocoa powder, cocoa beans are first fermented, roasted, and shelled.

Inside that shell are cacao nibs, which undergo a heated grinding process to be converted into a liquid known as chocolate liquor (a misnomer, since it contains no alcohol.)

Chocolate liquor is then divided into cocoa butter and cocoa solids via compression.

The grinding of cocoa solids results in cocoa powder, which is naturally fat-free (as a result of being separated from cocoa butter) and sugar-free.

This is all very different from chocolate -- which, at its most basic, is a combination of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, milk, and sugar.

Let's now talk about the difference in the two products you mention.

The standard 8-ounce container of cocoa you buy is pure cocoa powder.

The special variety your husband bought is a mixture of the cocoa powder sold in the 8-ounce container and some Dutched cocoa (cocoa powder that is mixed with an alkali in order to remove some of its acidity and bitterness.)

Since the processing of Dutch cocoa results in a loss of antioxidants and flavonoids, the fine print on the "Special Dark" product makes perfect sense.

In order to get the most benefit from the antioxidants and flavonoids in cocoa powder, have it in its natural form.

One suggestion? Make a smoothie with your milk of choice (dairy, soy, nut, etc.), one ripe medium banana, and a tablespoon of cocoa powder.

Or plug in your food processor and try my no-bake "brownie" recipe!

As for that U symbol -- it simply means the product is certified kosher.

1 comment:

T said...

Andy...what exactly is soy lechitin (spelling?) and why is it added to foods? Should I be concerned about it?

Also: Alvarado street products such as their breads...have you tried them? They are made with no flours, instead opting for whole wheat berries (which I make anyway so I figured I'd like their bread)...have you reviewed their products or the products from The Baker? Just curious.