Best chocolates for your Valentine 2/12
(This article is adapted from the February 2012 Consumer Reports magazine.)
Chocolate lovers can double their pleasure: Treat your Valentine to some great tasting chocolate and make a big difference by choosing organic, fair trade chocolates.
After trying three-dozen varieties of boxed chocolates for Consumer Reports 2012 taste tests, the testers high-rated one organic, fair trade chocolate brand: Theo Chocolate Confection Collection (12 pieces) at $26. The testers noted that Theo’s had outstanding pieces, such as “lemon ganache, fig, mint, and ginger enrobed in flavorful dark chocolate.” Also note that Theo’s products are kosher, gluten-free, and soy-free.
Another brand judged a Best Buy in the tests and produced in part with sustainably grown, local ingredients, is John & Kira’s Every Flavor Collection (56 pieces) on sale for $79. (A 15-piece box costs $32.) Testers found these chocolates infused with mint "taste as if the leaves were just picked." Although some ingredients can be locally sourced, these chocolates are not certified organic or fair trade.
Fran’s Chocolates Assorted Truffles Collection (36 pieces ) also was rated a Best Buy at $50, and uses some hand-selected organic ingredients, such as cream from the Fresh Breeze Organic Dairy in Washington State.
Many of the recommended handmade confections have a brief 5 to 10 day shelf life. So enjoy them right away.
For another winter-friendly chocolate experience, you might consider a gift of organic, fair trade hot chocolate. The last time Consumer Reports tested hot chocolates for taste, they recommended Dagoba Organic Authentic Drinking Chocolate, which costs $11.95 for a 12 oz. canister (or a 6-pack for $59.70), available online at www.dagobachocolate.com. It is certified both organic and fair trade.
Sweet health benefits for your heart
The high concentrations of antioxidants, called flavanols, in chocolate, especially in the dark variety, are naturally-occurring compounds known to have positive influences on vascular health, such as lower blood pressure and improved blood flow to the brain and heart. A study published in August 2010 in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure found that middle aged and elderly Swedish women who ate an average of one to two servings of high-quality chocolate per week had a 32 percent lower risk of developing heart failure than those who didn't eat chocolate.
|Photo credit: Tom Barwick|
In another 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers asked 1,216 older women how many servings of chocolate they consumed each week. Those who consumed chocolate "frequently" (either 1 to 6 servings or 7 or more servings a week) had a 24 percent lower risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease or heart failure than those who ate it "rarely" (less than 1 serving a week) over the course of 10 years.
Clearly, eating a little dark chocolate occasionally can be healthful, but eating too much won't be: The tested chocolates that reveal nutrition facts have about 200 calories and 8 to 18 grams of saturated fat per 1.4-ounce serving. So large amounts might harm your heart and expand your waistline.
Consumer Reports health experts recommend limiting yourself to small to moderate portions a couple of times a week. Also, try to steer clear of chocolate treats filled with caramel, marshmallows, or toffee--those sugary ingredients add to the calorie and saturated-fat count.
Some cocoa product labels mention antioxidants, but processing can mean a loss of flavanols, and most commercial cocoa drinks contain relatively small amounts, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, an independent, evidence-based evaluator of natural products.
When you check the label, chocolate's main ingredient is roasted ground cocoa beans (called chocolate liquor). Cocoa powder is chocolate liquor with most of the cocoa butter removed.
The following is a list of some meaningful eco-labels you can find on chocolate:
USDA Certified Organic
What it means:
• Farmers emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality For a directory of organic chocolate companies, visit the Organic Consumers Association, a grassroots organic advocacy organization. Click on "organic food" and then "cookies, snacks and candy."
• Crops are grown without using synthetic fertilizer or the most persistent pesticides
• Crops are produced without genetic engineering or ionizing radiation
• Crops are processed and handled separately from conventional cocoa
To learn more about what the organic label means and the different grades of organic, visit our Eco-labels center.
Fair Trade Certified
What it means:
• Farmers and workers receive a fair price for their product For a list of Fair Trade chocolate companies, visit the TransFair USA website. To learn more about what the Fair Trade label means, visit Eco-labels.
• Trade is done directly between farmer-owned cooperatives and buyers
• Crops are grown using soil and water conservation measures that restrict the use of agrochemicals
What it means:
• Crops are grown using integrated pest management systems that limit the use of agrochemicalsTo locate Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate, visit the Rainforest Alliance website. To learn more about what the Rainforest label means, visit Eco-labels.
• Crops are grown using water, soil and wildlife habitat conservation measures
• Farm laborers are paid salaries and benefits equal to or greater than the legal minimum wage of their countries
Chocolate: Sweet treat for your heart. 2/12
Can a little chocolate cut your heart disease and stroke risk? 8/11
A cocoa to savor. 12/10