Finally, a (Sunbutter dark chocolate) bark that’s better than its bite! Ready in no time, this is the perfect healthy snack to stash in your freezer. Dive into the creamy, melty treat with none of the guilt and all of the pleasure.
The holiday rush around this time of year seriously throws off my schedule. After class on Monday, my English professor asked me how Rosh Hashanah was, since I wasn’t in class last week because of it. He proceeded to say that it seems unfair for us to miss class and then have to spend so much time catching up on everything without falling behind on current work. I mean, I agree with him, but such is life. No use getting hung up about it.
Better to focus on fueling ourselves with some of nature’s healthy decadence– dark chocolate.
Long ago I needed to justify enjoying any chocolate, even if it had a very high cacao content. My friends can back me up here. In freshman year there was a bar of 90% Lindt chocolate that did nothing beside take up space on my shelf the entire year purely because no day felt like the “right” day to break it open. Thank God I’m past that now.
Dark chocolate is the ONLY reason you’ll ever need. So please, don’t make excuses. You don’t have to finish the whole bar, a square or two is fine. Do it for your own sake. Or for my sake, since we’re on good terms and do things like that for each other. We also share yummy recipes, like this and this, to get even more chocolate in our lives.
It still doesn’t always sit well with me that this is a good treat. There are days when I want a piece, yet decline because I can already feel the rebuke piping up in the back of my mind. To stifle the negative noise, I think it’s important to understand the why behind chocolate’s benefits.
Good quality cocoa is extremely rich in polyphenols, the chemical compounds found in plants. Interest in cocoa polyphenols has been rising for a while now. If anything, I’m surprised it’s taken us this long to care that chocolate is more than merely a comfort food. Back in 2007 there was even an entire conference in Milan called “Chocolate, Lifestyle, and Health,” all about (you guessed it) the effects of cocoa consumption on the human body. This is a fantastic summary of the conference.
The most abundant polyphenol in cocoa are flavanols, specifically catechins and tannins (yup, the same stuff that’s in wine and green tea). I found a fascinating article explaining flavanols, particularly in relation to chocolate, with a major plot twist. If you do a quick search, the most popular opinion is that flavanols are “direct antioxidants,” a concise way of saying that they give electrons to free radicals as damage prevention. You’re probably more familiar with vitamins C and E, both of which do this, too. But, apparently, polyphenols are pro-oxidative. In other words, they increase toxic effects in the body rather than decrease them.
Hold on. Back up about ten feet or so there. What?? Nooooo! I’ve gone so far down this chocolatey rabbit hole already, there’s no way I’m just going to accept that cocoa is harmful.
To my intense relief, all it took was reading one more sentence to clear up any concerns. Think of the viruses used to make vaccines. We’re stimulating our cells to recognize the pathogen and build up an immunity. Flavanols are chocolate’s virus. They cause our bodies to produce their own antioxidants, particularly glutathione, which is so strong because it’s located inside the cells.
Phew. Chocolate is still safe. Really dodged a bullet with that one.
Where were we…? Oh yes, reasons why chocolate is good for you. Aside from being delicious of course.
I stumbled across a study that my roommate also mentioned today. Researchers analyzed how eating polyphenol-rich dark chocolate for a short time (this study lasted 15 days) made healthy people’s cells more sensitive to insulin and lowered their blood pressure.
Another wonderful effect is the one on our brains. When used responsibly, aka not to drown your sorrows or reward good behavior or anything other than unadulterated enjoyment, dark chocolate improves mental cognition. The flavanols, those pesky compounds we doubted not too long ago, increase the blood flow to the brain, making us more capable of completing cognitive tasks. Hmmm, I’m hearing study snack. Here’s one for you, and you, and you! Study snacks for everyone!
A major consideration, though, is the quality of your chocolate. We’re not talking about milk chocolate, and don’t even get me started on white. Did you know that white chocolate doesn’t contain any real cocoa in it? Yes, that’s right, go put the offensive bar back on the shelf. The shelves are crammed with different brands of chocolate nowadays, so what do you look for in a good bar?
- Cacao content— The higher, the better. Try to aim for at least 70%.
- Cocoa first— Ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. Logically, “cocoa” should be the most abundant ingredient in your chocolate. Aim for a short and sweet ingredients list, without unnecessary additives like sugars, lecithin, and milk proteins.
- Fair-trade and organic— This does double-duty. Cocoa production is extremely difficult, so paying a little more for fair-trade helps the producers, and you get a better quality product.
- Not Dutch— Alkali processing, which is how you make Dutch cocoa, destroys the healthy benefits of chocolate. This is typically more relevant to baking chocolate or cocoa powder than the snacking variety.
With all this knowledge in hand, you’re ready. I promise. If you can wait patiently for the bark to set in the freezer, then you’re even better off than I was. (Really, did you expect me to resist opening the freezer every few minutes, poking to check if it was done? This is chocolate we’re talking about, after all.)
This dark chocolate bark is the easiest thing I’ve ever made. And it’s unbelievably customizable, so you can make it for every theme, mood, or dietary restriction under the sun.
Sprinkle raw pumpkin seeds for some crunch. Coconut and dried craisins add a touch of natural sweetness. Then, I went with dollops of Sunbutter, to keep it nut-free, although you can use whatever you find. (More ways to use Sunbutter can be found here and here.) The funnest (most fun? I can never remember) part is swirling everything with a toothpick. Say it with me, “edible abstract art!” Secretly it’s the only kind I really like. Plus when you freeze the bark, the Sunbutter stays soft, creating this funky texture combo.
Melt-in-your-mouth goodness, prepare to meet your maker.
If you try this recipe, I’d love your feedback. Leave a comment below, save it on Pinterest, or tag #lensesandlentils on Instagram to share!
- 6 oz dark chocolate*
- 2 tsp Sunbutter, divided
- 1 tbsp raw pumpkin seeds
- 1 tbsp dried craisins
- 1 tsp unsweetened flaked coconut
- coarse Himalayan pink salt or sea salt, recommended
- Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Break up the chocolate into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth.
- Pour onto pan and spread it out, keeping it as even as possible.
- Drop ¼ teaspoons of Sunbutter onto the chocolate. Using a toothpick, swirl the Sunbutter through the melted chocolate.
- Sprinkle on the coconut, craisins, and pumpkin seeds.
- Freeze for 15 minutes. When hard, break into pieces with your hands. Sprinkle with salt, if desired.
- Store in an airtight container/bag in the freezer.