The Definitive Guide to Chocolate

inline_definitive_guide_to_chocolateAh, chocolate. What a life.

According to the Aztecs, the great feathered serpent god of wisdom and creation known as Quetzalcoatl introduced the cocoa bean to mankind. It’s likelier that it originated in the Amazon rainforest and wound its way north to Mesoamerica, whose inhabitants figured out they could domesticate, ferment, roast, crush, and mix cocoa with water, chilies, and spices to produce a bitter, intoxicating drink. It then took a boat across the Atlantic, learning Spanish along the way. Europe wasn’t sure what to make of the bitterness until someone spilled a little sugar into the drink. Cocoa quickly swept across the continent, giving rise to large corporations that persist to this day, like Cadbury, Nestle, Hershey, and Lindt.

Today, chocolate is everywhere. It’s part of the fabric of human experience.

Why’s it so good?

Let’s start with…

The Health Benefits

Chocolate Contains Healthy Fats

Cocoa butter is mostly monounsaturated and saturated fat, with very little polyunsaturated fat. And because most of that saturated fat is stearic acid, which turns into oleic acid in the body and is well known for having neutral effects on LDL, even avowed lipophobes can happily and heartily gobble up cocoa fat.

Cocoa butter has been shown in animal studies to protect the liver against ethanol-induced damage.

Dark Chocolate Contains Lots of Flavanols

Flavanols are an important class of polyphenols, the phytonutrients that have beneficial effects on oxidative stress, inflammation, and help produce beneficial hormetic stress responses. When it comes to polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity, cocoa trounces the “superfruits” acai, pomegranate, cranberry, blueberry and almost everything else. The most studied polyphenol in chocolate is epicatechin, a flavanol.

Dark Chocolate and Endothelial Health/Blood Pressure

Epidemiological studies pretty consistently show that dark chocolate consumption is related to lower blood pressure readings. In Jordan, among Kuna Indians living in Panama, among pregnant women, and among elderly Dutch, this holds true.

Controlled trials suggest this observation is probably causation:

Cocoa consumption improved arterial flow in smokers. That’s not too surprising, as smokers have higher oxidative loads and high-polyphenol foods help fight oxidative stress. What’s really fascinating is the study that found fifteen days of eating dark chocolate, but not white chocolate, lowered blood pressure (and improved insulin sensitivity) in healthy subjects. The main difference between white and dark chocolate is the polyphenol content; both types contain cocoa fat, so cocoa fat isn’t enough to improve blood pressure.

In another study, flavanol-rich dark chocolate consumption improved endothelial function while increasing plasma levels of flavanols (which indicates the flavanols had something to do with it). Another study used flavanol-rich cocoa to increase nitric oxide production in healthy humans, which increased vasodilation and improved endothelial function. In another, the highest dose of cocoa flavanoids caused the biggest drop in blood pressure. Still another found that while dark chocolate did not reduce blood pressure, improve lipids, nor reduce oxidative stress, it did improve coronary circulation.

Dark Chocolate Is Prebiotic

Chocolate is a good source of polyphenols and fiber, both of which act as prebiotic precursors for healthy gut bacteria.

In “spontaneously hypertensive” rats, cocoa soluble fiber lowered blood pressure, perhaps by reducing weight gain.

Dark Chocolate and Cardiovascular Disease

In humans, both with normal and elevated cholesterol levels, eating cocoa powder mixed with hot water lowered oxidized LDL and ApoB (a good barometer for LDL particle number) counts while increasing HDL. All three doses of high-flavanol cocoa powder – 13, 19.5, and 26 g/day – proved beneficial. If you’re wondering, 26 grams of powder is about a quarter cup. It also works if you drink it with milk.

Given the effects of chocolate on lipid peroxidation, we can probably surmise that it will also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. And indeed, epidemiological studies suggest that this is the case. In a sample of over 2200 patients (PDF), chocolate consumption was inversely associated with progression of atherosclerotic plaque. The association held for chocolate in general, and I don’t think it’s likely that everyone was consuming 100% raw cacao powder brimming with polyphenols. A study from this year from the same group got similar results: chocolate consumption was inversely associated with cardiovascular disease.

Dark Chocolate and Insulin Resistance

For fifteen days, hypertensive, glucose-intolerant patients received either 100 daily grams of high-polyphenol dark chocolate or 100 daily grams of zero-polyphenol white chocolate. Diets were isocaloric, and nothing differed between the groups besides the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate improved beta cell function, lowered blood pressure, increased insulin sensitivity, and improved endothelial function, while white chocolate did none of those things. Again, this indicates it’s the polyphenols, not just the cocoa butter.

Dark Chocolate and Fatty Liver

As mentioned earlier, cocoa butter is hepatoprotective in the context of ethanol consumption. These benefits seem to extend to other areas of liver health.

Daily chocolate consumption is linked to lower liver enzymes.

Dark Chocolate and UV Damage

One study found that feeding high levels of dark chocolate to healthy people over twelve weeks doubled their MED, or resistance to UV damage; feeding low levels of dark chocolate had no effect on the MED.

Similarly, another study found that a people who ate high levels of cocoa flavanols had greater resistance to a given UV dosage than a low-flavanol group over a six and twelve-week period.

Dark Chocolate and Aging

It seems like every time you read about the dietary habits of a centenarian, they’re big chocolate lovers. That may not be a fluke, as chocolate has been shown to improve many aspects of the aging process.

In postmenopausal women, high-cocoa dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain and periphery. It also reduces arterial stiffness.

A 40 gram hunk of dark chocolate improves the ability of older patients with peripheral arterial disease to walk unassisted within 2 hours of consumption. That’s wild.

Older folks who eat the most chocolate have better cognitive function and a lower risk of getting type 2 diabetes.

It’s pretty clear that the older you are, the more chocolate you should eat. I’m certainly operating under that assumption.

How Chocolate Is Made

What are we talking about when we talk about chocolate? How’s it made?

After the cocoa bean is scooped out from its pod, it sits in piles for about a week to cure. This is heap fermentation—the first step in cocoa processing. During heap fermentation, yeasts degrade the mucilaginous pulp that surrounds the beans into ethanol, bacteria turn the ethanol into acetic acid and carbon dioxide, and this raises the temperature enough to eventually “kill” the cocoa bean. Now dead with its cell walls breaking down, the bean experiences chemical reactions that develop flavor and color. Fermentation also reduces bitter compounds and phytic acid.

Then the bean is dried for a week or two, then roasted, then pulverized to form nibs. Sometimes that process is flipped—they pulverize the dry bean into nibs and then roast the nibs. The nibs are ground into a paste called cocoa liquor or chocolate liquor, which is combined with sugar, vanilla, and other ingredients to form the actual chocolate. This is also the point at which they make cocoa powder by pressing the liquor and extracting the cocoa butter.

They’ll further refine the cocoa, trying to reach the point at which the human tongue won’t perceive individual particles. Once it’s smooth, they’ll “conch” the chocolate, which involves mixing and aerating the stuff at high temperatures to improve texture and mouthfeel. Soy lecithin improves emulsification and cuts down on the amount of conching required.

Each step of the processing, um, process reduces the flavanol content of the chocolate. This means the rawer the chocolate, the higher the flavanol content. But except for the explicitly raw bars, almost every finished chocolate bar undergoes fermentation, roasting, and conching. There’s really no way around it. And even the “raw” chocolate probably isn’t even raw. And if it were, is that even desirable? Fermentation and roasting all reduce phytic acid content, after all. Even the ancient Mesoamericans roasted their cocoa beans before eating or drinking them. And it’s not clear if “more polyphenols” are always desirable.

Besides, all those chocolate researchers aren’t using obscure cacao products. They’re not using raw unfermented cacao beans handpicked by Aztec elders. They’re using commercially-available cocoa products subjected to significant processing, like 85% dark chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder. And they still work great and produce excellent benefits.

Powder: There are different powders out there. I won’t discuss pre-mixed sugary hot cocoa powders; avoid them.

  • Raw cocoa powder comes from dried, fermented, unroasted beans. As the beans haven’t been roasted to extract all the cocoa butter, some residual fat remains.
  • Roasted cocoa powder comes from fermented, roasted beans. This tends to be lower in fat, as the roasting process allows greater extraction of cocoa butter.

Nibs: Nibs are like chocolate gravel, unsweetened. You can add them to smoothies, eat whole, or grind down to make your own cocoa liquor.

Liquor or mass: Cocoa liquor/mass is ground up cocoa nibs/beans in solid or semi-solid form. It’s about equal parts cocoa solids and cocoa butter. You can eat this straight up like a maniac or use it to make your own chocolate.

Bars/chips: The finished product. The percentage of cocoa in a bar (100%, 85%, 70%, etc) indicates the amount of cocoa mass and butter. An 85% chocolate bar is 85% cocoa mass and cocoa butter, 15% other stuff like lecithin, sugar, and flavorings.

How to Eat

There’s the obvious way: Place in mouth and chew. I like to go a square at a time, and really just let it sit on my tongue, slowly melt, and envelop my taste buds. This way, chocolate lasts longer and you need less of it to get the desired effect.

You can also get creative in the kitchen.

Stu Can’t Stop Bark: Stu is my writing partner and buddy Brad Kearns’ dog, and Stu can’t stop barking once he gets going. Stu Can’t Stop Bark is Brad’s edible, polyphenol-rich homage to Stu.

  1. Take a pound of 80%+ chocolate and break it up into pieces. Add half to a double boiler or glass bowl set above a boiling pot.
  2. As chocolate melts, add 3 tablespoons of coconut oil. Stir to combine.
  3. Add two cups of chopped macadamias or other nuts to a large mixing bowl along with the rest of the chocolate.
  4. When chocolate/oil mixture is completely melted, pour it into the mixing bowl. Stir until everything is melted and evenly distributed. Really coat those nuts.
  5. Spread half the mixture evenly into a 15 x 10 inch glass baking pan. Drizzle three tablespoons of almond butter across the top. Optional: sprinkle coconut flakes or coconut butter across the top.
  6. Spread the rest of the mixture across the top. Sprinkle sea salt. Optional: sprinkle coconut flakes or coconut butter across the top.
  7. Refrigerate until solidified. Remove from pan, cut into squares with large chef’s knife. Keep refrigerated or frozen until ready to eat (immediately).

Do not give Stu, or any other dog, Stu Can’t Stop Bark. They can’t process the theobromine in the dark chocolate. To a dog, chocolate bark is way worse than a bite.

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Hearts: Just posted earlier today. Go read it and make it.

Spiced Cocoa: Heat water, coconut milk, regular milk, nut milk or a blend of some of them and whisk in cocoa powder, turmeric, black pepper, cayenne, cinnamon, and sweetener if desired. Top with real whipped cream (no sugar needed).

I’ll sometimes do a tablespoon of powder in my coffee, blended.

Next time you make chili, throw a bar of 85% dark chocolate in.

How to Choose Chocolate

Stick with dark chocolate.

Milk chocolate is, for all intents and purposes, not a health food. The milk and the extra sugar crowd out the cocoa. Some chocolatiers are starting to make milk chocolate with a greater percentage of cocoa content, which is an improvement—but you’re still left with the huge sugar dose milk chocolate inevitably provides. There is one company making chocolate (both dark and milk) sweetened with erythritol and stevia and a large dose of prebiotic inulin that tastes great and has just a few grams of digestible carbs per bar; I’ll grab one of their salted milk chocolate bars when I see it.

Similar story with white chocolate. It’s got the cocoa butter but no cocoa flavanols. Not a health food.

I won’t say “never eat white or milk chocolate!” Just don’t make them a health staple.

When I’m talking about chocolate, I’m talking about dark chocolate.

Aim for 85% cocoa content or above. You can still enjoy 72% cocoa chocolate. I won’t throw you out of the tribe just because you eat 66%. But 85% cocoa chocolate is really that sweet spot when good things start to accumulate. The sugar content becomes negligible. The fat and fiber go up. The cocoa flavanols start gathering force. And, if you can learn to appreciate it, the flavor is unmatched. Try your best to develop the taste.

The first ingredient should be cocoa. Cocoa (or cacao) bean, cocoa mass, cocoa liquor, cocoa powder are all acceptable. If “milk” or “sugar” or anything else comes first in the ingredient list, it’s not high-quality chocolate.

Avoid Dutch process cocoa. The Dutch process alkalizes cocoa, reducing the acidity and bitterness but also the bitter flavanols responsible for many of its health benefits. There are a few potential “tells” if you don’t know the Dutching status of your chocolate.

  • Dutch process cocoa will have a little residual sodium (from the alkalizing agent sodium carbonate) in the nutrition facts.
  • Dutch process cocoa will be darker in color and have a richer “classic” chocolate flavor.
  • Un-Dutched cocoa will be lighter in color and fruitier in flavor.

Look for Fair Trade chocolate. Cocoa production has a long and storied history with slave and child labor, and some of that continues to this day, particularly in West African countries—where most of the world’s chocolate originates. Sticking with Fair Trade chocolate helps avoid this ethical issue, increasing the chances that the people who grow, harvest, and produce your chocolate are adults receiving fair compensation.

What to Eat

There are thousands of boutique chocolates out there. Most are probably good, so eat what you like. Some of my preferred brands and products:

Santa Barbara Chocolate Company: These guys sponsored PrimalCon from the very beginning, and their awesome chocolate they provided was, for many people, the highlight of the experience. I still remember Brad walking around with a big sack of their dark chocolate and being surrounded by a Vibram-clad mob.

Hu Kitchen: I love their salty chocolate bar.

Addictive Wellness: Tasty chocolate with functional ingredients. They pair high quality cacao with adaptogens and herbs like reishi mushrooms, chaga, ashwagandha. Sweetened with stevia and xylitol.

Theo: Theo 85% chocolate is one of my favorite bars right now.

Eating Evolved: The coconut butter dark chocolate cups are out of this world. Treat as a treat.

Bare: Their chocolate coconut chips. Just try them. Treats, not staples.

Trader Joe’s: The Montezuma 100% chocolate bar is the smoothest 100% cocoa bar I’ve ever had. You can actually eat this straight up and enjoy it.

Green and Black’s: Their 85% bar is widely available and still one of the best I’ve had.

What About Toxicity Concerns?

What about heavy metal toxicity? A recent report from As You Sow, a consumer advocacy group, claims to have found dangerously high levels of cadmium and lead in many leading chocolate brands.

Cocoa is often grown in volcanic soils which are relatively high in lead and cadmium, especially in Latin America. Cocoa trees are especially good at absorbing lead and cadmium from the soil and distributing it throughout the beans. Those metals persist throughout processing and wind up in the finished product, albeit, according to this study, at relatively low levels.

I’m not sure how important this is. After all, the benefits of chocolate are clear and well-studied. It seems to improve health and longevity, not curtail it. And some chocolate experts express skepticism at the reports, suggesting that the assays used to determine the heavy metal levels in chocolate are superficial and not definitive, criticizing the refusal of the advocacy group to publish their specific results, and pointing out that previous studies into lead and cadmium levels in cocoa found low levels. At any rate, many Primal foods and spices, like garlic, ginger, onions, green tea, as well as probiotics, spirulina, and chlorella have all been shown to reduce lead and cadmium absorption and toxicity.

Chocolate is good for you, but it’s still candy. I consider it to be a supplemental food, a medicinal ingredient to be used regularly but sparingly. Don’t obtain a significant amount of calories from chocolate. If the heavy metal issue does turn out to be a significant problem, treating chocolate as a supplement will mitigate the consequences.

That’s it for today, folks. Now go eat some chocolate!

What’s your favorite chocolate brand, type, or mode of ingestion? Got any great recipes? Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.


About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

75 thoughts on “The Definitive Guide to Chocolate”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. This is so timely since I just bought several bars of Green and Blacks 85% cacao and it tastes so good I was sure there must be something bad in it! Happy to hear that it is a good choice.

  2. Great post on one of my favorite things. I live right by Hershey, PA and can actually smell the chocolate sometimes. But I’ve gotten so used to the super dark stuff that everything else tastes too sweet. Thanks for all the great suggestions…I love the Green and Black 85% bar, and buy the Lindt 90% quite a bit too. It’s great to know that something that feels so indulgent is actually good for you.

    1. You should avoid Lindt 90% – they are dutch process (it says so if you look at the ingredients).

        1. Mine are imported by Lindt Canada from Switzerland not made in the U.S which has it listed being processed with alkali. The Swiss ones don’t

      1. Thanks! I’ve always liked how it is so low in sugar, and I remember Dave Asprey saying that it was less likely to have mold than some other brands

      2. What about the 99% stuff which we can get in France? I don’t have any to check the packet but I used to eat that until I found organic 100% chocolate in a local health food shop. now I’m going to make my own from raw cacao powder.

      3. I’ve had confirmation from Lindt that their Excellence 90% bars, available in the UK, are made using the dutch process although this is not stated on the packaging.

  3. This is timely since I just bought several Green and Blacks 85% cacao bars and they are so good, thought there must be something bad in them! Happy to read that they are a good choice.

  4. I never ever liked chocolate until I tried a dark chocolate bar! When I learned of the benefits of dark chocolate, Green and Blacks was the first I tried. I found I really liked it! So different from the sugary milk chocolate confections most people tend toward. NOW I understand why people love chocolate!

  5. Seems like a very timely day for an article on chocolate. I love your recommendations. Some of them I’ve tried before but there are some new ones in the mix as well.

  6. What about the potential downsides, e.g. acne? Personally I absolutely love the stuff, but planning to go off it for a bit to see whether it improves my skin. Would have expected evidence regarding possible reasons not to consume in addition to benefits in a ‘definitive’ article on MDA

    1. I relate Dan. I’m almost 60 and still seem to get a little breakout when I overdo the dark chocolate a bit on the Theo 85% (or any other fair-trade organic bar); however when I make my own using organic raw cacao and coconut oil, it doesn’t affect me. Go figure …

      1. That’s very interesting, thank you! I will have to try that, do you follow a recipe?

        1. Sort of … I mix equal parts melted coconut oil and cacao, along with a little raw honey (1 Tablespoon +/-) and a sprinkling of himalayan salt. Pop in ‘fridge and it should be firm enough in a couple hours to eat. Have been making it for years …. love the stuff.

    2. Dan, I thought I was having the same issue, and then my adult daughter, also Primal since 2013, said it was the soy lecithin. I was skeptical, but once I started eating only very dark chocolate with no soy lecithin, I had no more acne response. In addition to Green & Black’s 85%, and Theo’s 85%, Alter Eco (85%) and Blanxart (82% single origin from Congo) are delicious and have no soy lecithin. I hope this works for you, too!

      1. Thank you Naomi! I have tried this as well but perhaps I did not give it enough of a chance. I was also skeptical because this study demonstrated an exacerbation of acne and appears to have used 99% dark chocolate from Lindt, whose ingredients are only cocoa mass, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and brown sugar, although they do state “May contain peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, milk and soya lecithin.”

        1. Have to chime in on the acne thing. I suffered from severe cystic acne for about 30 years. Once it finally cleared up (by eliminating grains and most dairy and sugar) and was stable I had no problem with dark chocolate. But I stick to 85% and above.

          1. Largely eliminating grains and sugar cleared up my lifelong cystic acne also. I now rarely get pimples at all unless I eat grains. Actually, observing new cystic acne within hours of eating a (high quality, preservative free, artisanal) bagel, consistently, is what made me actually take the ‘avoid grains’ advice seriously.

  7. How much do you think Mark liked writing, “really coat those nuts?”

  8. I’m wondering about the caffeine content of chocolate. What’s the does compared with a cup of coffee, and would it keep me up at night if I had a couple squares before bed?

    1. I don’t know the numbers but for me, a cup of coffee later than one or two pm will keep me awake at least until midnight 🙁 but I can have 1-2 squares of 85% chocolate at any time of evening with no problem.

        1. Could you have it earlier in the day rather than just before bed?

          1. Theoretically, but I do love the after dinner indulgence.

    2. Paleofam321,
      I did a google search and found many sites that claim there is about as much caffeine in chocolate as in a cup of decaf coffee.

      This site claims that there is none but that the main active chemical in chocolate, theobromine, is a mild stimulant but different in its overall effect from caffeine.
      The author of this page says that the other sites claiming that there is caffeine in chocolate are all getting their information from one another.

  9. i’m a chocolate fanatic; honestly, the best brand obtainable in USA is Michel Cluizel, based in Paris. It can be mail ordered from a variety of places. a good one is (i don’t sponser them or work there! just enjoy their chocolate ;). anyway, Cluizel uses no soy lecithin, it is a company that has their own chocolate fields, so they grow and process everytthing in the old, traditional ways for Europe, and their 99% chocolate squares are nothing short of fabulous. you just pop one and suck on it. seriously, it is so well made that sugar is not missed. and no emulsifiers needed because they really do things right.
    it is smooth and flavorful and dreamy. 🙂

    1. Thanks tuffy, bookmarked and going to order some and give them a try!

  10. I mostly just use cocoa powder, probably too much. (I also like raw cocoa beans.) Mix in a few teaspoons with some whole milk for “chocolate milk.” Do a 50/50 cocoa powder/milk ratio for a chocolate sauce (e.g., with banana). Use it instead of flour in pancakes for a delicious cocoa flavor and toss it in things like yogurt where it goes great with apple and cinnamon.

    It started as a switch from Nutella to the pure stuff I actually like. I had an epiphany about food about a decade ago when my mother said I was using so much salt. But it wasn’t the salt I was after. I was using garlic salt. I then switched to garlic powder, but I’m currently mostly on just slicing and dicing garlic. Anyway, the stuff I like about Nutella was the hazelnuts and cocoa; the main component of sugar was take it or leave it so I tried without and never went back. These days it’s decidedly leave it. It’s become cloyingly sweet to me. When I want a sweeter note I just add fruit.

    I do like 100% chocolate but it’s extremely pricey. Alas, Aldi has Trader Joe’s branded stuff here in Europe but none of the good stuff like that. (Okay, they sell decent enough nuts and such under that label but it’s hardly like they wouldn’t sell almonds or whatever if they didn’t own Trader Joe’s.) Oh well, our food is probably better on the whole so I’m sure I’ll manage. 😛

    1. I’ve just ordered 100% raw cacao powder online to make my own choc drinks and hard choc with (the former also using cocoa butter which I ordered online last year and always add to my homemade hot choc drink for extra yum). 100% choc bars are indeed very pricy, which is why I tried making my own yesterday – easy and tasty. Maybe you could try online for the ingredients?

      1. I doubt it’d be significantly cheaper than procuring cocoa butter from the local bio store (€ 3,49 per 100 g), though of course it’s possible, but I’m perfectly fine without chocolate in its “traditional” form really. But thanks for the suggestion! 🙂

        PS I say “traditional” because cocoa drink in various forms is arguably more traditional than chocolate bars.

  11. We live just down the street from Theo’s. Talk about fragrance in the air! Especially when the air is heavy with moisture here in Seattle. They also have free samples which I shamelessly indulge in frequently on a walk. If you visit Seattle, make sure you go to Theo’s.

  12. I’m loving Alter Eco 90% right now. And they’re fair trade as well! Yesterday I tried Hu cashew butter chocolate which was great on taste and creamy but a tad too sweet for me.

    1. I was so disappointed Alter Ego wasn’t mention. The 90% is great and so is the 85%. It is the go to bar in our house. And we go to it at least twice a week.

  13. So thoughts on regular use of raw cacao? Chocolate is candy…but can cacao be in daily circulation?

  14. Just an FYI about the recipe in STU can’t stop bark. You’re 100% correct about chocolate being a no-no for dogs…..also macadamia nuts are poisonous to them.

  15. Excellent to hear this, everyone in my family makes fun of me for eating “tree bark” as they call it (while they eat their milk chocolate, blech!) I wanted to ask you about and/or mention Chadwick’s doubledark semi sweet chips: they’re 70% cacao; and nut, dairy and soy free; have 3 ingredients: chocolate liquor (non-alcohol), dehydrated cane sugar, and cocoa butter (non-dairy). I love to mix 1T of these with 1T of raw cacao nibs, a little salt and ginger to taste, and melt it for a deliciously gooey warm dark chocolate dessert treat, mmmmmmm.

  16. It’s ironic that you wrote about all things chocolate on Ash Wednesday…a day when lots of folks give up chocolate for 40 days! Lucky for me, I only gave up my snooze button. 🙂 Green & Black’s is my go to EVERY TIME!

  17. Any thoughts on Choffy? I’ve always been interested but have never tried it.

  18. As per an independent consumer group, sponsored only by consumers who pay a subscription, Green & Black,s 85 % Organic Cocoa Bar has 6.7 mcg of cadmium per serving which amounts to 0.17mcg/g, Trader’s Joe 85% dark chocolate has 29 mcg of cadmium per serving. The other chocolate bars that Mark likes where not lab tested for cadmium. Surprisingly Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate Bar 100% Cocoa has no traces of cadmium and also Lindt Excellence 90% Cocoa Supreme Dark has no traces of cadmium.

  19. I love this blog! I’ve been following Dr. Sisson’s orders and eating a couple of 85%+ squares per day. I swear it’s actually making me a better person (certainly happier). Thanks for reinforcing what just naturally feels right.

    1. PS – Theo is located just a few miles from my house and it’s a beautiful thing when you visit Fremont, WA and you get to smell them making their magic. It’s one of my favorites, too. Treat yourself to a tour next time you’re in Seattle.

  20. Can you comment on the difference between cacao and cocoa? My understanding from research is there is a difference but some use the word interchangeably? Cacao is unprocessed and in it’s purest form, whereas cocoa has gone through a heating process that could destroy some of the nutrients.

    1. I looked at this last year as I was puzzled, like you. I could find no difference between cacao and cocoa as ingredients, it’s just a different spelling. However, “cocoa” as a drink is usually pre-sweetened powder used to make a version of hot chocolate. My personal feeling is that it’s disgustingly sweet, but I think it’s what is the difference between a cocoa drink and a hot-chocolate drink (although most of the latter are also sweetened.) Or maybe “cocoa” as the name for a drink is just a cultural difference in some countries? Anyway, I never drink hot choc when I’m out now, as I can’t take the sugar, and indulge in home-made where I can control the ingredients!

  21. Mark, you forgot Taza. Stone ground cacao beans of the best quality. The flavor and texture is by far the best

    1. A little late to the party, but I have to agree with Matt on Taza. :Love their stuff. It’s a bit different and seems more “ancient” and/or “traditional” by being stone ground.

  22. Just bought “Alter Eco Dark Super Blackout” 90% Organic fair trade chocolate bar. This is the most amazing tasting 90% bar I have come across so far. Has anyone else tried it?

    1. Me too, until I found 100% bars in a health-food store a fortnight ago. And someone has posted
      (above) that it’s Dutched, but this may be in America and not on the continent.

  23. My favorite is Endangered Species 88%. Anybody have any info on the quality of these?

    1. I eat the Endangered Species 88% as well and was wondering the same thing – does anyone know about the quality as compared to some of the others that have been discussed?

  24. Nibs in my after workout smoothies…always. The crunch can’t be beat.

  25. I don’t see any mention of sugar in these chocolate bars and recipes. I get that chocolate by itself is healthy but sugar sure isn’t, and I find it highly addictive and need to stay away from it. What bars/recipes mentioned in post or comments have no sugar or alternative sweeteners? Appreciate it.

    1. The paragraph where Mark briefly touches on the milk chocolate he would eat with a link. It’s Lily’s brand and is sweetened with stevia and erythritol. I have gotten their 55% bars and chocolate chips and they are really good.

    2. I’m going to make my own chocolate bars as soon as the bag of organic raw cacao powder I’ve ordered from the internet arrives. You can make a drink with it, and hard choc by melting either cocoa butter (also available on the net) or coconut oil and adding the powder until it goes nice and thick, then refrigerating it. Alternative sweeteners for the drink could be xylitol or erythritol, though I don’t like or use honey (too sugary, too). I didn’t sweeten the trial hard bar that I made yesterday with the cacoa powder I had in the house and it was great, but I do add a little xylitol to the hot drink when I make that. If you use xylitol make sure it’s the proper stuff made from birch bark.

  26. Hi Mark, you wrote: “And because most of that saturated fat is stearic acid, which turns into oleic acid in the body and is well known for having neutral effects on LDL”. An you please define “SH” in this context? Couldn’t find it anywhere.

  27. Hi Chris, you wrote: “And because most of that saturated fat is stearic acid, which turns into oleic acid in the body and is well known for having neutral effects on LDL”. An you please define “LDL” in this context? Couldn’t find it anywhere.

  28. When I eat dark (or semi-dark) chocolate, I like to eat it along with pork rinds, adding them to the same mouthful.

    I don’t like to eat dark chocolate much, though, since it upsets my stomach, if I eat more than a couple of squares, and I wonder whether that makes it not worth it, healthwise.

    Regarding the percentage, my brother keeps saying that 85%, e.g., means that the non-sugar contents make out 85% of the product, not that the cacao contents make out 85%. By this principle, an 85% chocolate bar with nuts in it would contain less than 85% cacao.

    As for the heavy metal issue, I’ve heard about the cadmium problem before, and I’ve been lead to believe that it’s more safe to buy chocolate that are produced with cacao from Africa than from South America.

  29. I’m a huge chocolate fan and my favourite is Pico, made in Victoria, Australia. It is 85% cacoa with 4 ingredients – cacoa mass, cacoa butter, coconut nectar 13% and vanilla. I never eat any chocolate with sugar or agave and always aim for 85% cacoa. I try to stop at 4 squares but sometimes eat another 4 and then another 4….especially after golf when I particularly feel like a chocolate hit.

  30. 80% is my sweet spot. The only brand I found that is organic, fair trade AND doesn’t contain soya is cheaper in the 85% kind so I have a good reason to try and eat the 85% one!

  31. Good, I knew yeast was a good thing:

    “yeasts degrade the mucilaginous pulp that surrounds the beans into ethanol”

  32. Seconded on the Montezuma chocolate from Trader Joe’s – it also has crunchy cocoa nibs that are delicious. The 100% takes a little getting used to (and is better with some macadamias to round out the bitter taste) but is delicious and affordable and comparable to the $9 a bar 92% chocolate I’d been buying.

  33. Thanks for the excellent primer on chocolate, Mark. An interesting read, although I’ve never been much of a fan. I can take it or leave it, usually preferring to leave it regardless of how “healthful” it might be. Maybe it’s the very lack of sugar (that’s so prized) and the in-your-face bitterness of dark chocolate that I don’t like, or the fact that it’s so heavily processed and likely contains varying amounts of heavy metal. (How can that possibly be healthful?) Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure we non-chocoholics can derive the same nutritional benefits from other foods.

    As a side note, nobody in my family likes chocolate all that much, not even milk chocolate. Maybe there really is such a thing as a “chocolate gene.” If so, none of us have it.

  34. Damn you, Mark Sisson–I was halfway through writing my latest blog post on exactly the same topic…Perhaps Valentine’s Day had us both thinking about chocolate. By the way, if people ARE concerned about lead/cadmium levels, Endangered Species scores low on those, high on polyphenol content, and is utterly delicious.

    1. Marci, I got a good laugh there. Even though I beat you to the punch this time, I think there’s always more to be said (celebrated?) about chocolate. For one, I already have some new brands I’m looking to try.

  35. Is the Dutched chocolate in any way harmful, or just not as nutritious as raw cacao? By a major coincidence I made some chocolate yesterday from 100% organic cacao powder and cocoa-butter, and it was delicious. But then I read Mark’s post, and although it took away any guilt it did make me unsure about the powder I was using. So now I’ve ordered half a kilo of raw organic powder online.

  36. Mark, I’m kookoo for cacao, and the darker the better, but it gives me such strong gas! 20 minutes after I have a serving or two, the gut starts rumbling and the wife clears the room. I also seem to be sensitive to FODMAPs, could this be related? Beano seems to be the only relief.

  37. I prefer to make my own dark chocolate. That way I can control the sugar content and other ingredients. I also like to add coconut oil and medicinal mushrooms powder to my dark chocolate.