There was a time when your relationship with chocolate seemed perfect. You loved chocolate and, with its antioxidant and serotonin-boosting properties, it seemed that chocolate loved you back. But things have changed and nowadays chocolate isn’t making you feel too good. Lately, chocolate has been giving you cramps, nausea, bloating, headaches…it’s come to the point where the best option seems to be to break it off for good. If you and chocolate are on the rocks, don’t worry. Whether it’s an intolerance to cocoa bean, dairy, nuts, chilli or fruits we can help. With hints to help you and chocolate get back on good terms, recipes where dairy, and added sugar aren’t welcome, food intolerance tests to help you pinpoint where the problems first started, and even substitutes to help you forget about chocolate for good, we can help get you feeling normal again.
If it’s a dairy intolerance keeping you and chocolate apart, then cocoa powder might be just the trick to rekindle the relationship. Most of us already own a tin of cocoa powder, although for much of the year it probably sits neglected at the back of the cupboard, only to be brought out for the annual GBBO inspired fit of baking experimentation. However, if used right, cocoa powder can be a versatile and satisfying alternative to chocolate. Plain, unsweetened cocoa powder contains no sugar, (hence it’s slightly bitter taste) and has four times the amount of antioxidants than milk chocolate.
For a warming dairy-free hot chocolate, try mixing a few teaspoons of cocoa powder with hot almond or coconut milk; if you like your hot chocolate a little sweeter, add a small amount of honey to taste. It’s also great added to your favourite smoothies to give a guilt-free, dairy intolerance friendly chocolate undertone.
Or, for a midday chocolate fix, simply dust a fruit and nut mix of your choice (we like almonds, walnuts, pecans and dried cherries) in cocoa powder. Not only is this a great way to stave off chocolate cravings, it’s also healthy, cheap, and quick to rustle up. If you like your snacks a little sweeter, put down the sugar, and instead add a little cinnamon to the mix; it’s naturally sweet, sugar free, and is practically best friends with chocolate.
Getting your fix doesn’t have to mean sweet stuff either; cocoa is great added to traditional Mexican foods, or anything with chili, giving a subtle, sweet depth to contrast the heat.
Chocolate not returning your calls? Forget about it, and say hello to carob. Whether it’s a lactose intolerance, histamine sensitivity, dairy intolerance or cocoa intolerance that signalled the beginning of the end, it’s carob that could be the sign of a fresh start. Carob is the name commonly given to the pods of the carob tree, a Middle Eastern native that is now grown worldwide. The pods are rich in natural sugar, calcium and minerals. When roasted, these pods can be used pretty much like cocoa powder, being made into carob bars, drinks, cookies, brownies, ice cream… you name something chocolatey, and it’s pretty much guaranteed carob can be used as a stand in. Whilst not being exactly like chocolate, carob does taste similar and is a much healthier substitute for cocoa, because:
Carob contains no caffeine or tyramine, two substances which have been linked to migraines. Caffeine can also cause digestive trouble that some people experience after eating chocolate; in contrast, some cultures have traditionally used carob to actually aid digestive problems.
Its powdered form has half the fat of cocoa, and is naturally sweeter, meaning that less sugar is added to carob products. You can purchase carob as a powder, and use it exactly how you would cocoa. It can also be bought in bars – many of them dairy free – meaning that a traditional “chocolate” fix is still an option.
Unfortunately chocolate as we know it is rarely found in a healthy form with the majority of chocolate being mixed with lots of refined sugar, hydrogenated fats and additives to produce the processed bars that flood shop shelves. But there are healthy options available. Chocolate comes from the cocoa bean which has the Latin name Theobroma cacao which literally means ‘food of the gods’. To make cocoa powder, cocoa beans are roasted and then ground, which removes some of the natural nutritional content of the beans. However, these beans can instead be cold pressed rather than heated, which results in cacao, the raw form of cocoa. This process removes the fat from the beans and keeps natural goodness locked in, forming two products; raw cacao, and cacao butter. Raw cacao is the healthiest way to get a natural chocolate fix, being minimally processed and full of antioxidants.
Cacao is also good for your heart, and is linked to reduced blood pressure, lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, and a reduced risk of stroke. Theobromine found in the cocoa bean contains tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin – our natural mood elevator. But in processed chocolate there is not enough cocoa to warrant an effect – you need to be eating minimum of 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate to gain any benefit.
You’ll most often see cacao sold as “nibs”, looking almost like chocolate chips, but also as “raw cocoa powder”. Cacao nibs can be thrown into cereal, nuts, chopped berries, smoothies or dairy free yoghurts for an instant antioxidant chocolate fix. However, their potential is most realised in “raw” baking, where they can provide an intense but healthy chocolate hit. Why not try out our no bake cacao nib and raw cocoa fridge cake recipe below, and tell us what you think and share on social with the hashtag #FreeFromFeast.
Raw Cacao Recipe: No Bake Fridge Cake
This cake is vegan, and dairy/gluten/lactose free. If you want a cocoa-free, low histamine version, just replace cocoa powder with carob powder, and add a couple of lightly crushed pecan nuts to the mixture instead of the nibs.
• 145g walnuts
• 110g almonds
• 25g pecans
• 200g dates
• 125g raw cocoa powder (or carob powder)
• 35g cacao nibs (or crushed pecans)
• 2 teaspoons instant coffee • ½ teaspoon flaked salt
• 1 teaspoon ginger
• 1 ½ tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1) Put the walnuts, almonds and pecans in a food processor, and blend until fine, but not a powder.
2) Add in the dates a few at a time to the food processor, and blend until the mixture starts to come together. If the dates come with syrup, you can add a little of this to loosen and sweeten the mixture
3) Add in the raw cocoa (or carob) powder, and blend in pulses until all ingredients are combined. Tip the nut and date mixture into a large mixing bowl, scraping any left on the side of the food processor.
4) Lightly melt the coconut oil, and add to the mixture along with the cacao nibs (or pecans). Stir gently, and add all remaining ingredients.
5) Line a 7×7 inch pan with greaseproof paper, then pour in the mixture. Press this down to form an even layer over the pan.
6) Place into a fridge for about an hour to set.
7) Cut into squares when set, and serve. This should make around 16 good sized squares, but also works well cut up into smaller bitesize cubes. If your fridge cake isn’t immediately devoured by everyone in sight – lucky you! – it should also keep well in the freezer for 2-3 weeks.
So, if you and chocolate have been on frosty terms lately, try out some of our tips above, and let us know what you think. Think chocolate and you might not be best matched, but can’t figure out why, take a look at our Food&DrinkScan programme. This way, you can figure out whether it’s the cocoa bean itself, or another ingredient that’s causing your problems.
Emily Catterall, 24: IBS
“I feel like I’m in a new body! I’m so much healthier. I can’t tell you how amazingly different I have felt since!”
Sally Gunnell OBE, 52: Energy levels
“I’m not waking up as much during the night, not as bunged up in my nose and I’ve got so much more energy”