When I was 25 I swore off chocolate. I thought is was making me sick. No hot chocolate, no chocolate ice no chocolate candy. After some months, I would give this up and eat it again. I love chocolate. Years later, I was surprised to learn that the cocoa bean is one of the most potent anti-oxidants on the planet. The bean must not be processed with alkali - otherwise known as dutch processing - which is done to change the flavor and preferred by some bakers, but shunned by many gourmet companies. Some higher end chocolates often do not mention that they have not been processed with alkali, almost as if it is an insult to even suggest that chocolate could be processed that way. Yes, I’m partial to the guaranteed health benefits over any possible flavor benefits, and I like the rich flavor as is anyway.

I have a friend who’s son works at the Lindt store. I asked him about alkali. “Lindt doesn’t say that their chocolates are not processed with alkali. Could they be?”, I asked. Come to find out, Lindt gives their employees some fairly in depth “chocolate training”. He had been a keen listener and was able to tell me unreservedly that Lindt chocolate is not processed with alkali. I bought it almost as dark as I could get it - the 85% bar. There is a little sugar in it, but not much. Recently, I switched to the Trader Joe’s Pound Plus, purely for cost reasons. I really liked Postum before it was discontinued. It was a good hot grain drink in the winter that was low calorie. I tried a dozen others over the last few years and found some that are pretty good. I settled on Caffix after some time - another grain drink made of roasted barley, rye, chicory and sugar beets. I imagine the name is designed to lure former coffee drinkers and would be coffee quitters to the shelf. For me, it was just a good, hot, low calorie winter drink.

When I discovered that chocolate was a potent anti-oxidant, I began to look for a good way to drink it. For some reason, raw cocoa beans are rather expensive. I suppose they have to hand pick out the best beans before selling as opposed to grinding up a few things we would rather not know was in our powder. Otherwise, I can’t account for the cost difference. But is the powder processed with alkali? Some powders will say so right on the container. Others are silent. Hershey’s recently stopped processing their cocoa powder with alkali. It’s hard to get answers out of companies, but I did read one blogger’s comments that he was sure Trader Joe’s Tumaco cocoa powder was non-alkali. There are other things to consider. The temperature of the bean roasting effects the anti-oxidant levels. I am using the Trader Joe’s powder for now. They do such a great job of selecting other decent products, that I figure it’s my best chance without doing more research or buying the beans myself.

Cocoa powder does not mix well in cold water, but with a little heat it mixes quite well. Mix it in before adding milk. Unsweetened Almond milk and a pinch of stevia makes for an amazing drink. Yes, I like it better than Caffix. It’s low calorie, hot, and delicious. With any luck, I’ll have the same benefits as the Kuna Indian’s on the San Blas Islands of Panama, who include in their diet a daily “tea” made of ground cocoa beans and have a much lower rate of heart disease than their cousins who leave the island for a western diet on the mainland. When I was a teen, one of my favorite Sunday night treats was homemade hot chocolate. This was usually made with milk, rather than water, heated so that the cocoa would mix well, some added sugar, and vanilla. I would make a big pot of it myself and then share it.

But what of this cocoa in water with a little milk? I had never heard of anything close before hearing of the Kuna indians. There are some new commercial versions of this tea, one called Choffy, which has roasted ground beans. I tried it and liked it, but it’s rather expensive compared to off the shelf cocoa powder. Could the powder be as good, or almost as good, or good enough that by drinking more of it, the same benefit is obtained at a fraction of the cost? I don’t have the answer to that yet, but I did find that I was not the only one drinking cocoa powder. A few weeks ago, I showed up on election day at a polling location in my home town of Billerica, MA to hold up some signs, hoping to perhaps sway a few votes. I’m not sure that does any good at all, but with all the excitement leading up to an election, it seems you have to do something, and there’s nothing else that can be done on election day. Perhaps the greatest benefit is just rubbing shoulders with a few other energetic community members. One of them was a young man who worked at a coffee shop in town. He was campaigning for Marc Lombardo as a state rep and although it was cold, he was determined to wear his short sleeve Marc Lombardo shirt. You have a lot of time to talk standing out there with signs and so I suppose it’s no surprise that the subject of his shop came up. “Have you ever seen my shop?” He asked. “Where is it? Oh yes, I can picture where that is”, I replied. “Stop in sometime”, he said. “Well, I don’t drink coffee, but I like pure cocoa powder in water with with a little milk.” “We have that”, he replied. “Stevia?” “We have that too”. I was surprised to find that I was behind the times on this one. I guess I’ll be stopping by that shop sometime - I need to see it myself. When I get there, I’ll ask him if he knows my son. It didn’t occur to me until after we parted that they were probably in the same graduating class.

So what of getting sick from too much chocolate? I think it was true, because I would eat a lot of the cheap chocolate - full of sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Hot chocolate powders were no better, very often including trans-fats in their non-dairy creamers. I doubt I even got the benefit of the anti-oxidants due to the likely dutch processing. I eat a few squares of the Pound Plus bar every day, have a cup or two of cocoa powder drink. I’ll admit to being a little over board right now, but I’m making up for depriving myself when I was 25. I still have a freezer full of another of my favorite anti-oxidant - blueberries, mostly a gift from my wife who does most of the picking, but not most of the eating. But I’m happy to have added chocolate to the list. By the way, did I mention chocolate is listed by some as one of the top ten brain foods?

2019 Update: It’s so hard to navigate good health practices. I have recently learned that chocolate can have higher levels of Cadmium, which our bodies do not eliminate quickly. The solution is to seep ground chocolate beans instead of “dissolving” the powder and drinking it too. I should have stuck with the Kuna Indians method exactly.