While chocolate is regarded as delectable, divine, even fetishistic, it's rarely described as healthy-unless you ask the experts.
"Chocolate is definitely good for you," says Michael Antonorsi, chef at the Carlsbad-based Chuao Chocolatier. "It's not just the antioxidants. For me, the biggest healing power chocolate has is how you feel when you're eating it-it's emotional." And those pleasurable feelings, he says, trigger all sorts of benefits in the body.
A group of researchers from the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego tout several health benefits of eating chocolate. They report that cocoa contains certain flavonoids, which offer strong cardiovascular benefits, and a trio of neurotransmitters, which seem to enhance a sense of pleasure or well-being.
Mariella Balbi, owner of Guanni Chocolates in Fallbrook, agrees. "I truly believe in the benefits of cocoa," she says. "Turning it into chocolate doesn't mean creating something bad for you."
In contrast to the Kit Kats and Milky Way bars available at every convenience store on the planet, Guanni Chocolates are available at San Diego-area farmers markets. And while Balbi's creations and other fine chocolates contain nothing more than cacao paste, sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin and vanilla (purists restrict ingredients to cacao and sugar), varieties produced by larger brands are fabricated with unnatural ingredients to help cut costs. Hershey's and Nestle , for example, sometimes save money by substituting cocoa butter with the less expensive polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR), an emulsifier synthesized from castor beans.
"The chemicals added to most commercial chocolate are what make it unhealthy," Balbi says.
Cocoa butter melts at around 97°F, the approximate temperature of the human body, which is why chocolate is said to "melt in the mouth." M&M's, which "melt in your mouth, not in your hands," do so because of their chemically-enriched outer shell. When it comes to the divinity of chocolate, it seems, cleanliness is less close to godliness.
And, OMG, does this stuff taste good.
Chuao Chocolatier chocolates are available nationwide at Whole Foods and other retailers, but San Diegans can go right to the source: Chuao Chocolatier Cafés in UTC, the Del Mar Highlands shopping center and the Lumberyard in Encinitas. chuaochocolatier.com
Elegant Truffles in Point Loma produces truffles ranging in flavor from espresso to champagne. For her caramels, owner Michelle Muratore uses her family's heirloom copper pot, following a recipe from 1847 that was handed down from her great-great-grandmother. trufflemaker.com
Guanni Chocolates creates sumptuous collections of fine truffles, including the Machupicchu Collection-truffles with peppers, spices and herbs. Get a taste at the Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Del Mar, Encinitas, Vista, Poway or Oceanside farmers markets. guannichocolates.com
Chi Chocolates at Liberty Station in Point Loma specializes in fresh artisan chocolates, from enormous premium slabs to bon bons like their dark chocolate, infused with rosewater and encased in white chocolate. chichocolat.net
Eclipse Chocolat in University Heights, which uses all-natural ingredients in creating 32 flavors of truffles, hand-wrapped chocolate bars and other exotic confections, treats "chocolate-making as alchemy." eclipsechocolat.com
Sinful Creations in Carlsbad carries handmade truffles and candies in flavors like Grand Marnier ganache rolled in toasted almonds. They even take their sweet show on the road, offering a chef and all the ingredients for an off-site (i.e., your house) private cooking class. sinfulcreationschocolate.com
Jer's in Solana Beach specializes in homemade peanut butter and chocolate creations, including the Pretzo Change-O, a baked-pretzel-pieces-and-peanut-butter center, covered with milk, dark or white chocolate. jers.com