Chocolate can help you to lose weight. No, really. Neuroscientist Will Clower has found that a small square of good choc melted on the tongue 20 minutes before a meal triggers the hormones in the brain that say “I’m full”, cutting the amount of food you subsequently consume. Finishing a meal with the same small trigger could reduce subsequent snacking.

From Bean To Bar

From Bean To Bar

The first chocolate shop in Britain was opened in 1657, by a Frenchman, in Queen’s Head Alley in the City of London, not far from what is now Liverpool Street Station. The owner served hot chocolate, made with water (not milk) and spices, and fashionable fellows of the time employed the drink as a hangover cure.

Chocolate is incredibly good for you. Dark chocolate is full of beneficial minerals, such as potassium, zinc and selenium, and a 100g bar of dark (70 per cent or more) chocolate provides 67 per cent of the RDA of iron. There's more: consumption of cocoa has been shown to reduce levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and raise levels of good cholesterol, potentially lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is even good for your skin: The flavonols in dark chocolate can protect the skin against sun damage (though you'd probably better still slap on some sun cream).

It is the things that large scale-manufacturers add to chocolate that can be harmful. Take a close look at the wrapper of a bar of milk chocolate from a giant of the confectionery industry and you are likely to see that “cocoa” or “cocoa solids” are not the first ingredient. Instead it is likely to be fat or sugar or, at best, a dairy derivative. What we think of as “a bar of chocolate” is really a bar of fat and sugar with added chocolate.

Cocoa cannot be cultivated on a commercial scale in the UK, USA, Europe or Australia. Cocoa trees will only grow successfully outdoors in a narrow belt around the Equator and 20 degrees north and south of it. The pods containing cocoa beans grow straight out of the tree’s trunk and can be any of a range of colours from bright red through sharp yellow to verdant green.

Chocolate is thought to have been first used by the Olmec people of Central America, some 2,500 years ago. A little later the Mayans regarded chocolate as gift from their gods and gave it pride of place in religious rituals; and after them came the Aztecs, who used chocolate (more specifically, cocoa beans) as currency: one tomato was worth one cocoa bean. There is even evidence that people made fake cocoa beans, just as later people would counterfeit coins. So chocolate money was invented long before Santa started to deliver it.

Some of the world’s finest chocolate is made not in Belgium or Switzerland but in a shed near Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire. Duffy Sheardown works there: his first career was as a Formula One racing car engineer, but now he makes chocolate bars that have won top awards in international competitions. They cost £6 or a little more, and are worth every penny. Duffy is not alone: there are brilliant artisan chocolate makers all over Britain, from Cornwall to the Highlands of Scotland… and you can read all about them and their delicious creations in my book.

From Bean to Bar: A Chocolate Lover’s Guide to Britain by Andrew Baker (AA Publishing, 22nd August) is available here

Tagged in