For the indigenous Aztec people, cocoa was consumed as a drink and held great cultural and medicinal value. It was almost seen as a panacea, which can cure various diseases including fever, diarrhea, fatigue, angina and tooth decay.
The Aztecs believe that cocoa was a divine nectar, probably due to the belief that it was a gift from Quetzalcoat, an Aztec god of wind and wisdom. Perhaps that’s why the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus named the plant Theobrom Cacao, From ancient Greek words “thos” means deity and “broma” means food – “food of the gods”.
It is more likely that the reason for any potential benefit is due to the high concentration of polyphenols found in natural cocoa – known as cocoa flavanols. Polyphenols are antioxidant compounds in fruits and vegetables that protect the body from free radicals, which are additionally linked to various diseases. So while cocoa may not be a cure-all it once believed, research suggests that it is more than just a guilty pleasure.
A rich past
The man responsible for the beginning of Cocoa’s unification in Europe was believed to be Hernán Cortés, a Spanish conqueror (soldier and explorer) after the return of the “New World”.
In 1518, Cortes and his people arrived in what is now Mexico and headed to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. During their time in Mexico, the Spaniards made a bitter drink known as “chicolatale”. The drink consisted of roasted cocoa beans that had been crushed, then boiled in water with spices and chilies.
The first performance for the drink was not a favorable experience for the Spaniards – it is very bitter and almost inaccessible. But Aztec King Montezuma II was seen drinking the drink about 50 times a day, Cortes was interested in the ability of cocoa and sought to bring it back to Spain after his conquest.
Once in Europe cocoa beans were crushed and mixed with honey and sugar, which became a popular drink among the elite. Finally, in the 19th century, the first chocolate bar was created by Joseph Fry and Sons, which we know today as chocolate.
From bean to bar
While cocoa beans in their natural form contain a high amount of antioxidant compounds, the process of converting beans at once reduces the cocoa flavanol content, reducing the antioxidant properties of cocoa.
In fact, research shows that natural cocoa powder contains about ten times more flavonols than cocoa which results from this process.
Like chocolate bars, dark chocolate almost always contains a higher amount of flavanols than milk chocolate. For example, a 25g high percentage (over 75%) serving dark chocolate may contain 80mg of cocoa flavanols, compared to about 10mg or less per 25g for milk chocolate bars.
Research has found that dark chocolate and cocoa containing at least 200mg of cocoa flavanols can improve blood vessel elasticity, which helps with blood flow. And regular intake of cocoa flavanols – even 80mg a day – improves the ability of blood vessels to dilute or expand, which helps the body regulate blood pressure and blood flow to organs. Does.
This is considered because cocoa flavanols increase the concentration of bioactive nitric oxide. It is a molecule involved in the widening of blood vessels that also has anti-inflammatory properties and reduces the formation of blood clots, which can all have beneficial effects on blood pressure.
Cocoa flavanols can also increase blood flow to the brain, which can improve cognitive performance. And they can help reduce cognitive decline by protecting the brain from free radical damage.
Along with the cardiovascular and cognitive benefits, cocoa flavanols can also help improve muscle recovery after strenuous exercise, thanks to their powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. A recent study found that single high doses of 1245mg of cocoa flavonols (15 g of a high flavanol cocoa powder) improved muscle mass.
So next time you are in the mood for some chocolate, opt for a high percentage dark variety or natural cocoa powder for any possible health benefits.
This article was originally published on a conversation by a Liam reporter at Huddersfield University. Read the original article here.