On Wednesday February 24, 2021, Form 3 CCP Science students at St. Margaret College Secondary School, Verdala, Cospicua participated in a Science project about the healthy benefits of dark chocolate. In this Science project, students learned about the history and the production of dark chocolate. This project was organized by Senior Science teacher Martin Azzopardi sdc and was related to the science study unit about mixtures.
The making of dark chocolate is quite a lengthy process which first involves the picking of ripe cacao beans from cacao trees. Then these cacao beans are cleaned and left to ferment for approximately nine days with the help of a yeast-based starter. The cacao beans are then put in wooden boxes or covered by banana leaves to develop their flavour. During this process the appropriate temperature, humidity and ventilation are necessary.
After fermentation, the cacao beans are left to dry and then roasted to acquire a dark brown colour and develop their flavour and aroma. Then the outer shell of the beans needs to be removed in order to get the inner beans called nibs. These nibs are then ground at high pressure to produce cocoa mass (chocolate liquor) and cocoa butter. Sugar is then mixed with cocoa mass and cocoa butter to produce a paste which needs to undergo a conching process.
The conching process involves rolling, rubbing and heating steps until the mixture becomes smooth and creamy. Chocolate will be smoother if the conching process is longer. Then a stabiliser (like soy lecithin) and additional flavours (like sea salt or vanilla) are added to the mixture. Finally comes the tempering process whereby the chocolate mixture is poured into moulds to cool and turn solid.
Dark chocolate should contain at least 75% cocoa chocolate, as the larger the cocoa percentage, the greater the health benefits. Flavoured dark chocolate is likely to contain more sugar and salt and so it is better to opt for plain dark chocolate to attain more health benefits. Consuming 20g of dark chocolate (two large squares or six small pieces) a day offers many health benefits but a balanced diet is always recommended, as dark chocolate contains saturated fat and sugar.
One of the benefits of dark chocolate is that it is rich in antioxidants and flavanols. The health benefit of flavanols is that they help our body to improve the cells that line the insides of our blood vessels and so reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other studies show that flavanols in dark chocolate offer some type of neuro-protective benefits and prevention from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Flavanols also have an anti-inflammatory effect which prevents inflammatory bowel disease; they can also protect our skin from sun damage because flavanols improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.
Another health benefit of dark chocolate is the fact that cocoa contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine which can improve and stimulate the brain function.
At the end of this research science project, participating students discussed the issue of fair-trade in the production of dark chocolate as some workers involved in this market (especially in African countries) are exploited. After the discussion students enjoyed the tasting of a piece of dark chocolate with 75% cocoa.
This project aims to reach three of the main goals proposed by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: Good Health and Well-being, Life on Land, and Quality Education.