Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Theo Chocolate Academy

Theo Chocolate Academy
Theo Chocolate located in the center of the universe is sponsoring a Chocolate Academy (pdf) where you can earn a degree in “chocolatology”. We missed the CHOC 101: The Real Thing class (the first) and picked up with the series with CHOC 102: Sinful and good for you?. Andy McShea, Theo’s CEO and head scientist was presenting. We focused on what is known and not known about the antioxidants in cacao from plant to finished product (chocolate bar) and the role of antioxidants in health and aging. In particular, we focused on epicatechin – a polyphenolic antioxidant found in plants – which is the primary antioxidant in chocolate. Everyone usually talks about theobromine as the interesting chemical in chocolate, but the catechins are where it’s at. Take away from the lesson: chocolate has a fair amount of epicatechin in it and hence antioxidant potential. There have been studies to understand how chocolate’s antioxidant properties affect health. The studies are encouraging, showing some benefit, but there are too few studies and not enough participants to really draw any definitive conclusion. For now, enjoy (dark – more epicatechin) in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

After the presentation we tasted some pre-conched and post-conched Theo chocolate as well as some special chocolate blends that were prepared for the class. In the interest of fairness some Hershey’s Special Dark and Dove were provided for comparison. The Hershey’s bar is something like 45% cacao - essentially a milk chocolate. But why does it look so dark? Because the alkali process (“dutching”) of the chocolate darkens while destroying antioxidants. Also, look at a Hershey’s label. The first ingredient is sugar by weight. Why eat a chocolate bar that has more sugar than chocolate? Finally, the Dove chocolate we sampled tasted like chocolate pudding – again, an artifact of the alkali processing. I can’t say we won’t ever eat Hershey’s or Dove products again but we’ll think twice about supporting products whose are over-processed and have ingredients not easily recognized like PGPR or TBHQ. Luckily there are very good chocolate options today, especially artisanal chocolate, that use basic, identifiable raw ingredients and care in the processing.

The Chocolate Academy is organized into four series. The classes so far (first series) are held at the “theonista” show room which used to be the old Trolleyman Pub of Redhook brewery before it moved out of Fremont. Not that the Trolleyman Pub wasn’t a treasure in a sense, just that we’ve been to Theo more than the Trolleyman – which probably tells you nothing more than we like chocolate more than beer. The presentation we attended was informally projected on a wall with some fold out chairs and miscellaneous comfy furniture to sit on. We are looking forward to this week’s class CHOC 103: Chocolate for Nerds.

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