Do you remember the day someone came out and said to the world, “Chocolate is good for you!”? Did you throw yourself on your knees, look up to the sky and say, “Thank you, Jesus!”? Neither did I … but I wanted to … I think I did in my mind.
Valentine’s Day is upon us. Lent is still at bay. This is our window. We can eat chocolate guilt-free. Unless, of course, you’re one of those really weird folks who don’t like chocolate. I met one once. I couldn’t relate. I mean, really. That’s like not liking dogs. It might be a sin. I don’t know.
For years, I ate chocolate. I just opened mouth, inserted, chewed and swallowed. It was good. I liked it, but I was missing out. I did not realize there are levels of chocolate and that some is better than others. Fine chocolate is just that — fine, mighty fine, even!
In the last few years, I have gotten some education. I now know the difference in fine and not so fine chocolate. I also have learned how to savor it. May I share that with you? Here goes.
First, put it in your mouth. OK, you knew that. Let it melt against the roof of your mouth to feel the texture. If it is fine, it will be velvety smooth. Roll the chocolate over your tongue, allowing the flavors to permeate your mouth. You should first notice a nutty, roasted chocolate flavor, followed by sweetness and other flavors. Lastly, enjoy the aftertaste that lingers on your palate. Ahhh … enjoy this slow pleasant process.
Note that at no point does it say to chew. Of course, with nuts you may want to chomp a bit.
I want to share with you three of my favorite chocolate companies. First, Vosges offers unique divine chocolates. They add a variety of spices, including bacon and chili peppers. Nay, nay, I stay away from those. However, most of theirs are at the top of my list. You will definitely want to savor them as you eat them. You can find them on the web or in gourmet shops in Grand Rapids. They have a couple stores in Chicago, and if you love chocolate, they may be worth the drive. They even make candy bars.
Second is See’s Chocolates, which began in 1921 in Los Angeles and remain a West Coast standard. Detroit Metro airport has a kiosk. Woodland Mall has even had one, at times. You can also find them on the web. They aren’t as unique as Vosges. Their selection is more standard, but they are still fine.
Third is close by and fabulous. Koeze’s Nut House is on the East Beltline by Knapp Corners, right across from Wendy’s in that little strip mall.
Grandpa Koeze came from the Netherlands. His son began to make peanut butter, which is now sold all over the world. They sell a variety of fine chocolates, but my favorite is called Cream-Nut. This was featured in Oprah’s Favorite Things and several fancy magazines. I gave many at Christmas and I think people are still licking their lips and going, “Ahhh.” The Cream-Nut comes in milk or dark chocolate, with peanut butter or without. The peanut butter is the kicker. Go for it. Your taste buds may send you a thank you note.
Now for the health matters. There is a growing body of credible scientific evidence that chocolate contains a host of heart-healthy and mood-enhancing phytochemicals, which benefit both mind and body. Yahoo, you say?
Chocolate is a plentiful source of antioxidants which reduce the ongoing cellular and arterial damage caused by oxidative reactions. Chocolate inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. If you eat a small bar of dark chocolate daily, it can reduce blood pressure in people with mild hypertension. This just keeps getting better.
The University of California has found that chocolate thins the blood and performs the same anti-clotting activity as aspirin. So instead of having a baby aspirin a day, you could try a taste of heaven. Dark chocolate is best because it has less sugar.
Chocolate also has remarkable effects on the human mood. It boosts brain levels of serotonin. People who are depressed have lower serotonin levels. Women typically have lower serotonin levels during PMS and menstruation, which may be one reason we have strong cravings for chocolate during these times.
So, with all this tasty information, I hope you will savor some fine chocolate during the Valentine season. You don’t need a valentine to enjoy. All you need is a piece of fine chocolate and thee.
As my gift to you, I have a favorite fabulous recipe for Chocolate Banana Bread. It was a cover picture on Chocolatier Magazine. I don’t like banana bread or cooked bananas, but this is much higher level than that. It is made with several fine chocolates, all available at Meijer. And, it’s easy. Email me if you’d like the recipe. Happy Valentine’s Day, fellow chocolate lovers! (I’m assuming you are one or you wouldn’t still be reading this.)
Maureen Burns, a Greenville resident, is a professional speaker and author. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.