Food — Take A Walk On The Dark Side
Take A Walk On The Dark Side

By Patty Caya

Eating great chocolate may even be good for you


Part one of a two-part series on chocolate.

Remember the scene in Willy Wonka where Augustus Gloop starts drinking out of the chocolate stream, and meets his demise by being sucked up into a tube?

While I’ve always felt that all of the bratty, selfish children in that movie deserved their strange fates, Augustus’ situation has always given me pause.

I think Wonka punished the rotund Bavarian not for his gluttony but because of his poor taste in chocolate. That stream obviously ran thick with milk chocolate. If you’re going to risk your life and possible future riches, at least do it for the good stuff.

Now if the lake had been at least 65 percent cocoa chocolate, I think he should have stripped down and jumped right in. That would have shown him to have a discerning palete and perhaps he would have walked away with the chocolate factory.

This childhood fantasy is perhaps indicative of an early inclination toward chocolate snobbery, but don’t take my word for it. Chocolate: pure, high-grade, dark chocolate has been linked in recent studies to helping prevent cancer.

So put down that Hershey bar and belly up to a piece of dark chocolate heaven.

Like a glass of fine wine, a good chocolate will actually increase in flavor beyond the first taste.

David Quimby, executive chef at Southern NH Medical Center, teaches a class called “Charmed by Chocolate” at Impressive Chef in Nashua. He says it’s easy to tell when you have good chocolate—just eat it and you’ll taste the difference.

He calls it the “mmmm factor.”

Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars and the other leading mainstream candy companies have formulated their chocolate to appeal to American’s desire for immediate gratification, not quality.

Quimby explains it like this: “When you eat a Hershey bar, you put it in your mouth and the flavor happens right away. And it’s gone right away too. Good chocolate takes a while to work its way down your throat and please your taste buds.”

“And it lasts longer,” he says. “Belgian chocolate lasts even longer.”

It’s not just taste, a  good chocolate also has a specific consistency. Hold up a Belgian chocolate bar to your ear and give it a snap or listen to it as you take a bite. It will have a distinct snap. According to Quimby, if it doesn’t have that snap, then the chocolate wasn’t tempered properly. “It should snap and be firm,” he says.

Proper tempering gives the chocolate a dark glossy appearance and a firm consistency. Poor-quality chocolate often has a gray or cakey appearance and is softer than high-grade, premium crack, uh, I mean dark chocolate.

Quimby teaches students in his chocolate class about the properties of chocolate and how to work with it, including how to properly temper chocolate so it can be molded. The first order of business is to teach the students to start with pure chocolate and keep it that way.

All chocolate is not created equal, but each cocoa bean begins life with the potential to achieve great things. In the nature vs. nurture argument, chocolate is all about nurture.

Theresa Anderson, and her husband Michael own Swan Chocolates in Merrimack. They are the owners and chocolatiers who create the recipes for their fine confections. They start with the highest-grade premium Belgian chocolate for all their products.

Anderson explains how a cocoa bean becomes chocolate.

“The beans are harvested, from the Ivory Coast, fermented under banana leaves in the sun. Then they go through a pressing process. They are pressed at high pressure points to extract the cocoa butter. This process turns cocoa beans into the two raw materials that make chocolate, a clear liquid, the liqueur, and what’s left behind is the cake. Then add cream, vanilla and sugar. That makes it chocolate. That’s it.”

The only real differences from one chocolate to another are the amount, quality and source of those ingredients and how they are mixed together.

Next time you reach for a chocolate bar, flip it over and check the ingredients.

Commercial candy producers like to add fillers and additives to their chocolate bars.  Ingredients such as vegetable and/or palm kernel oil, corn syrup and hydrogenated oils and emulsifiers mean that you’re not getting quality chocolate.

These types of ingredients are used because they are cheaper than pure cocoa butter and allow producers to make the chocolate without tempering it. You won’t get the texture or the flavor of real chocolate and you certainly won’t get the big chocolate taste.

You won’t get the health benefits either.

Not that we need any extra enticement to eat chocolate, but recent medical studies have reported that chocolate actually contains beneficial antioxidants that supply small amounts of cancer-fighting agents to the body.

Step away from the Kit Kat. It’s not just any chocolate that gets the medical nod.

Milk chocolate and most candy bars you find at the checkout counter do not contain high enough cocoa content to provide the beneficial antioxidants touted in the health claims. They also contain lots of fats and fillers that negate any benefit they might have had in the first place.

But is chocolate really good for you?

Quimby says, “I know what happens when I bring chocolate home to my wife...What do people give on Valentine’s Day? Chocolate. Flowers. Lingerie. Connect the dots.”

Despite the health claims, Anderson admits Americans are not as drawn to dark chocolate as Europeans. But with exposure people do come to love it.

She says, “Customers come in and say, ‘I don’t like dark chocolate’ and over a period of time, we make it very accessible. By doing sampling and putting flavors together we have built our dark chocolate business.”

Good quality chocolate doesn’t have to cost a lot. Stores like Impressive Chef and Trader Joe’s and local chocolatiers like Van Otis Chocolates provide a large selection of reasonably priced, high-quality chocolate to propel you on your path toward the dark side.

The real chocolate

Van Otis Chocolates

341 Elm St., Manchester



Van Otis Chocolates

366 South Willow St., Manchester


Boston Cone and Candy




Candy Kingdom

235 Harvard St., Manchester



Dan’s Chocolate Shop




Nana’s Choco-Licks

126 Kelley St., Manchester


—Patty Caya

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