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Hy-Vee Dietitian: Dark Chocolate

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Smooth, decadent chocolate is a classic Valentine's Day indulgence. But do you know dark varieties of chocolate are actually good for the heart, too?

The darker the chocolate, the healthier it is for you and your Valentine. Cacao beans contain nutrients such as iron, potassium and fiber, and also a potent class of antioxidants called flavonoids. The higher the percentage of cacao in a chocolate bar, the darker the chocolate, and the higher it is in flavonoid antioxidants. These flavonoids appear to have beneficial effects on the body, such as relaxing blood vessels, promoting healthy circulation and playing a role in healthy blood pressure levels.

As with many of the finer things in life, less can be more. The health benefits associated with dark chocolate consumption have been seen in modest consumption of approximately one ounce one-third of a Zet bar - a few times per week.

Darker chocolate's characteristic bitterness is best appreciated through pairing it well with complementary flavors. If you're new to dark chocolate, start with a 57% cacao dark chocolate such as Hy-Vee's exclusive Zet chocolate or Chocoluv. Work your way up to higher percentages of cacao over time. The smoothness of Zet premium Belgian chocolate will make a dark chocolate aficionado out of anyone!

Try some of these perfect dark-chocolate-with-food-and-drink pairings; we believe you'll be pleasantly surprised by some of these combinations:

1. Fruit: Known for its bitter bite, dark chocolate helps neutralize very sweet fruits such as strawberries, bananas and dried apricots. However, its properties also create a combo with citrus fruits that pack an edgy punch for true chocolate connoisseurs.

2. Nuts: Nuts in chocolate desserts make an interesting addition from both taste and texture points of view. Add roasted hazelnuts, almonds and/or walnuts to a chocolate bark recipe (such as the one listed below) for added crunch and a delicious nutty bite.

3. Cheese: The sweetness of chocolate can sometimes overwhelm the palate, which is why aged cheddars, Gouda, Havarti and Parmigiano-Reggiano have a strong enough flavor to balance perfectly. Spread toasted baguette slices with melted chocolate and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

4. Coffee: Dark chocolate can have some very strong coffee undertones. And, since these two favorite foods are grown in similar regions of the world, coffee and chocolate have flavor profiles that tend to naturally complement each other. Dark chocolate goes well with a bold coffee, such as Italian roast. Serve small chunks of dark chocolate with freshly brewed coffee for a sweet and ultimately satisfying end to a meal.

5. Wine: Pair chocolate and wine according to the darkness of the chocolate. Like food, follow the general rule of wine pairings: the darker the chocolate, the darker the wine. Red wines (like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel) are ideal for dark chocolate.

6. Beer: Dark chocolate pairs well with dark beers, like oatmeal stout.

Chocolate-Dipped Clementines
Serves: 30 (1 each)
Source: adapted from Eating Well, Inc.

All you need:
1/2 cup chopped 57% or higher dark chocolate
4 clementines, at room temperature, peeled and sectioned
1 tbsp finely chopped roasted pecans or hazelnuts

All you do:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.

2. Place chocolate chips in a small glass bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM for 1 minute. Stir; then continue microwaving in 20-second intervals until melted, stirring after each interval. (Alternatively, melt in the top of a double boiler over hot, but not boiling, water.)

3. Dip half to two-thirds of each clementine section into the melted chocolate. Let the excess drip back into the bowl. Place the dipped fruit on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle crystallized ginger over the chocolate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

4. To make ahead: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 day.
Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 18, Fat: 1g, Carbohydrate: 3g, Protein: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Saturated Fat: 0g, Dietary Fiber: 0g, Sodium: 0mg

Adapted from: Eating Well

Judy Fitzgibbons represents Hy-Vee as a nutrition expert working throughout the community to promote healthy eating and nutrition. Judy is a Registered Dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

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