Theobroma cocoa is the plant with produces the cocoa bean. From this bean cocoa butter and cocoa powder are produced through fermentation. Cocoa powder and cocoa butter are primary ingredient in chocolate, contributing to the distinctive taste and texture, respectively. Chocolate production is thought to have originated in the foothill of the Andes mountains, where a drink was produced from the cocoa beans harvested from wild plants. Now cocoa is produced on a commercial scale, with the product being used mainly in confectionary and drinking products. Chocolate is interesting because it is a double edged sword. The cocoa bean, like coffee and tea contains a very high concentration of polyphenolic substances which can confer health benefits to humans. In particular, the cocoa powder is rich in a group of polyphenols called proanthocyanidins. These polyphenols are oligomers of flavan-3-ols (also called catechins), the same flavonoids found in high concentrations in tea and in lower concentrations in apples.
Eating cocoa can therefore produce beneficial health effects that include protection from cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, care must be taken when choosing a chocolate product because some can be very high in sugar. Dark chocolate is produced by adding cocoa powder and cocoa butter (fat from the cocoa bean) to sugar. Milk chocolate also contain milk. Generally dark chocolate contains higher concentrations of cocoa powder than milk chocolate, and this makes it a superior product where health is a concern. But even dark chocolate can contain substantial amounts of sugar to counteract the bitter taste of the cocoa powder. Most milk chocolate contains only very small amounts of cocoa but much large quantities of sugar, and in this regard cannot be considered a healthy food. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, milk and sugar, but no cocoa powder. White chocolate therefore possess all the bad effects of milk chocolate with none of the benefits of the cocoa powder.
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