The Pleasures of Chocolate

By Jenny Rough

org_paver-VS_2The chocolate you’re planning to give your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day can be more than a sensory indulgence. Just ask Santa Monica chocolatier Liz Marx of Sweet Nuit, who endorses chocolate as a “medicinal healthy food.” Although the words chocolate and medicinal don’t necessarily go together, Marx is one of a growing trend among chocolate makers to join two other usually disparate concepts: decadent and healthy. The chocolate she crafts is vegan, organic, low glycemic and made from raw cacao.

A long-time vegetarian, Marx spent 25 years in her earlier life recycling glass products into whimsical blown-glass vases, bowls and light fixtures before realizing that, “Glass is a renewable resource, but it’s still a high energy-consuming product. Chocolate is sustainable.” She switched the focus of her artistic endeavors and now spends her time handcrafting the decadent treat, taking great care to avoid some ingredients commonly find in conventional chocolate— refined sugar, dairy and milk fats, wax, soy lecithin and emulsifiers—which she perceives to be potentially harmful.

How It Helps
As always, moderation is the key word, but here are some of the reasons eating chocolate may be good for you:

• Magnesium & other minerals In its raw form chocolate is high in magnesium. Magnesium balances brain chemistry and calms the nervous system. Chocolate also contains calcium, zinc, iron and potassium.
• Antioxidants Chocolate has more antioxidants than any other tested foods. That’s right, more than blueberries, goji berries and green tea. Resveratrol, the polyphenolic compound found in red wine (known for improving longevity), is also found in dark chocolate.
• Heart healthy Research has shown that dark, unprocessed chocolate may be good for the heart. One study, conducted by the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, suggests that eating dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and improve blood vessel function.
• Mood elevator Despite its reputation, scientists say chocolate is not an aphrodisiac, though it does contain a mild mood elevator, phenyl ethylamine (PEA). Chocolate is also known to boost endorphins.

Chocolate with a Conscience
When seeking out healthy versus unhealthy chocolate, don’t forget to pay attention to its source. According to researchers at Cornell University, the chocolate industry takes in $74 billion annually, yet only 6- to 8 percent of that makes it back to cacao (the seeds from which chocolate is made) farmers. And according to Global Exchange, less than 1 percent of cacao is certified as fair trade or organic.

The film The Dark Side of Chocolatedocuments how African children (some as young as eight) are smuggled into Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cacao producer. So be sure to look for a fair trade or direct trade label, which, in addition to ensuring farmers are provided with good working conditions and wages, also promotes environmentally friendly farming methods.

Where to Find ItChoc photo by Liz Marx of Sweet Nuit, Sweet V lll
Sweet Nuit Custom designed chocolate for every occasion, everything from chocolate Buddhas and birds to moons and hibiscus flowers. Instead of sugar, this organic, vegan chocolate is sweetened with Jerusalem artichoke syrup and coconut nectar.
Intemperantia Swing by Intemperantia’s Pacific Palisades store on 1524 Antioch St. and pick up a box of Valentine heart mini truffles, including eight delicious treats with no artificial ingredients, colors, flavorings, oils or substitutes. Most of their products are made with organic chocolate and they have an extensive vegan line, including the Valentine heart Pave Glace of thick, soft, dark chocolate.
Ethical Exchange If hot chocolate is your cup of tea—er, cocoa—check out Equal Exchange’s fair trade products, which are soy- and gluten-free. They work with small-scale farmers in the Dominican Republic and their goods are available in cafes, co-ops and natural foods markets. Try their dairy-free spicy variety, with added cinnamon and cayenne pepper for a kick.
Global Exchange If you make it up to the Bay Area, you can visit Global Exchange’s Fair Trade store in person. Otherwise, hop online to browse its selection of chocolate products, including bars made by Divine, whose Ghana farmers own 45 percent of the company.

Not Just a Dessert
While chocolate is a delightful snack, it can also be used to great effect in preparing more substantial dishes. Mole is a chocolate-tinged sauce with a chile base that is often used in Mexican cuisine. This recipe by Liz Marx is a modification that uses raw cacao. Scoop it like a gravy on veggies, cooked or raw, or drizzle it over enchiladas or chicken. “You can also spread it over raw kelp noodles, sprouted tofu or other sprouted beans and seeds,” Marx adds.

Raw Mole Sauce

2–3 dried ancho chilies (or any dark, smoky chilies)
1/2 c. hulled raw hemp seeds
1/2 c. raw cacao powder
2 Tbsp. Jerusalem Artichoke syrup (or other liquid sweetener)
1 c. chopped red tomato
2 tsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. cumin powder
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sea salt or smoked salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Soak the dried whole chilies in two cups of water for half an hour. In the meantime, pulverize all the dry ingredients together in a food processor or Vitamix. Add the fresh cilantro and oregano to the mixture in the processor. Drain and save the water that the chilies soaked in, remove the seeds, and add the chilies to the processor. Add the red tomato and hemp seeds, cacao powder, garlic, sweetener and vinegar to the mixture in the processor. While blending, add the chili water until the consistency is thin enough to pour like a thick dressing. Salt, sweeten and season to taste.

—Quartet photo by Liz Marx of Sweet Nuit

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