Margaret Ross, Staff Writer

Chocolate. No one can resist a creamy, sweet chocolate bar. Chocolate is one of my favorite foods, but we all feel guilty satisfying our midnight chocolate cravings. To disprove my guilt, I turned to the science behind the food.

The historically valuable, and always delicious treat has been shrouded in mystery for years. In the days of the Mayans and Aztecs, cocoa beans were used as currency to purchase everything from food to prostitutes.

Recent research has revealed that chocolate, especially dark chocolate, may potentially benefit heart health and general wellbeing.

Pure chocolate, derived from the cocoa plant, holds the real nutrition, unlike the sugar-filled, fatty chocolate sold in candy isles. In limited doses, cocoa can lower blood pressure and dangerous cholesterol levels, reducing risk of heart disease. Dark chocolate contains more antioxidants than most fruit.

Theories on chocolate’s effect on mental health vary and often conflict. Many experts believe that chocolate improves a person’s mood, due to release of dopamine. Tryptophan (a chemical also found in turkey) induces the release of endorphins, causing happiness. On the contrary, the emotional “comfort” provided by chocolate may actually worsen depression.

The flow of blood to the brain caused by cocoa is thought to help jolt awareness and improve performance on tasks like mathematical operations.

Unfortunately, these benefits rarely come in your average shiny, packaged chocolate bar. Various chocolate manufacturers tried to convince the FDA to permit them to replace cocoa butter with hydrogenated vegetable oil and call it chocolate. A Nestle spokeswoman claimed that this was a perfectly justified move because consumers don’t actually know what they want, nor do they understand the chocolate production market. Luckily for cocoa lovers, the FDA shot down the proposal, and real cocoa remains in popular brands.

Only organic and high quality chocolates provide the effects of real cocoa, by preserving the natural benefits of the cocoa plant. Make sure to consume real cocoa by buying chocolate from companies that treat their treats with respect, like Godiva and Ghirardelli.

So this holiday season, if you’re feeling under the weather or unfocused, perhaps chocolate is the medicine you need!


Margaret’s recipe of the month:

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

2 Cups of all-purpose flour

1 Tsp of baking soda

½ Tsp of salt

¾ Cup of unsalted butter, softened

½ Cup of sugar

¾ Cup of light brown sugar

1 egg

2 Tsp of pure vanilla extract

1 and ½ Cups (9 ounces) of mixed milk and semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Whisk dry ingredients: flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. Cream butter and sugars until mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

3. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix until fully incorporated.

4. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture. Beat until just combined.

5. Stir in chocolate chips.

6. Transfer dough to a 10-inch ovenproof skillet. Press dough to cover bottom of pan.

7. Bake at 350F until edges are brown and top is golden, about 40 to 45 minutes (less if you are using a smaller skillet). Cookie will continue to cook a few minutes once it is out of the oven.

8. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, about 15 to 20 minutes.