Chocolate: A Sweet Cure?

Cocoa tree leaves
(Theobroma cacao)
The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) produces over 150 different chemicals in its leaves, fruit, seeds and bark. Medicinal use of the cocoa plant dates back thousands of years to the Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Anxiety, fever, fatigue and coughs were all treated with preparations made from parts of the cocoa plant. Many plant remedies tasted (and still do!) very bitter so chocolate paste was used to help the medicine go down.

Its medicinal use in Europe can be traced to over 500 years ago when it was first brought over from the Americas, and was used to treat, amongst other things, anemia, emaciation, kidney stones and cuts and burns.

Today, cocoa trees are grown in tropical countries all over the world and recent research has confirmed that chocolate can be very beneficial to health and well-being. Chocolate is rich in plant chemicals such as polyphenols, the same chemical found in red wine. Their anti-oxidant effects have been shown to help protect against heart disease, as well as improving our immune system and affording protection against cancer.

The darker the chocolate the more anti-oxidants it contains. The saturated fats found in cocoa beans, unlike saturated animal fats, can also help lower bad blood cholesterol and actually raise 'good' cholesterol levels: all good news for chocolate lovers! And my favorite way to consume this wonderful food is in the form of truffles or rum balls.

Henry's Chocolate Rum Balls

6-oz semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 tsp of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup of sugar
2/3 cup of light rum
1/3 cup of dark rum
1/4 cup of raisins (soaking in the rum for 24 hours)
3 tbsp of light corn syrup
2 cups of crushed vanilla wafers (one 12 oz box = 3 cups of crushed vanilla wafers)
2/3 cup of powdered walnuts
1/3 cup of chopped walnuts
Confectioners sugar

Dry blend all of the dry ingredients. Melt the morsels and then add them and the wet ingredients. Blend again with a large spoon. Cover and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Roll into balls and cover with confectioners' sugar. Seal the rum balls in an airtight container and let them mellow for 1 week in the refrigerator. The rum can be switched with your favorite liquor. I typically make three times this recipe with rum, Baileys Irish Cream (switching with white chocolate morsels), and Kahlua.