Chocolate of the Carribbean

Greetings, Ninjas in Training!

At last, the most anticipated post topic of the century.

Chocolate.

Can you eat it? Can you not?

The short answer is:

See what I did there? There is no short answer. Hold on to your nunchucks, ninjalings. Let’s dive in and take a look at the mystery that is chocolate.

What is Chocolate?

Excellent question. What exactly are we talking about here? Chocolate can mean a lot of things.

I could tell you all about how cacao beans are fermented, dried, and roasted, but that took me months of research to sort through and I’m not going to bore you with it.

(Wait, months??? “It’s right there on Wikipedia,” you say. The thing is, more than one ninja has sent me a particular scientific paper about cacao fermentation, which contains information on the citric acid content of the beans and how this is important for flavor. The thing is, we don’t eat the whole bean, so I basically got lost in the tunnels of the Internet trying to find information that did not include the word “fermentation.” It’s harder than it sounds, I swear.)

Anyways, the part we care about is what happens after the fermenting, drying, and roasting. They crack open the beans, get rid of the hull (a source of citric acid in many hulled foods), and smush up the inside part, the “nib.”

(I deserve a medal for finding information on those darn nibs.)

The nib gets annihilated into what is called chocolate liquor, which, despite the name’s suggestion, is not going to get you drunk.

Because, Jack Sparrow, we are talking about chocolate.

Apologies. Captain Jack Sparrow, we are talking about chocolate liquor, which is comprised of roughly 50% cocoa butter, 50% cocoa solids, and 0% rum.

Aw 😦

Oh well, we have more important things to do anyways, like discuss what it means when you look at a chocolate bar and it says “Blah% Cacao.” What it’s referring to is the total content that comes from cacao – in other words, the chocolate liquor content. If you want to learn more nerdy things about cacao percentages, check out this page where I got all the info!

Now, I could start giving you science numbers, but first I’d like to give you some ninja numbers.

Ninja Survey Results

Roughly 100 years ago, I asked you whether you’d had a bad reaction to chocolate. The answers were broken up by tolerance level: High (1.2%+, can probably eat grapefruit), Moderate (0.4-1.2%, can probably eat tomatoes), Low (0.1-0.4%, can probably eat apples), or Saddest Tolerance Ever (<0.1%, should never eat anything) (I fall into this category) (see here if you want to figure out your tolerance level).

(Parentheses.)

The results:

image

We will come back to these momentarily.

Science Results

After trekking through the wasteland of fermentation and lies, I finally happened upon a paper that gave me the citric acid content of cacao nibs.

Drumroll please…

30 mmol/kg.

Uh, ok, so that tells us nothing. Let’s convert that into something we understand:

30 mmol/kg = 0.030 mol/1000 g
(0.030mol/1000g)(192g citric acid/mol)(1/10) = 0.56g/100g = 0.56%

Thank you to my chemistry nerd friend Maria for checking my math, because I was pretty sure I’d forgotten how to do math when I saw that result.

Please click here for an appropriate emotional response: D:

But wait. We don’t just sit there eating chocolate liquor (I hope). Milk chocolate contains roughly 10% cacao, and dark chocolate must contain at least 43% to be considered dark (in Europe at least… let’s be real, in America it’s probably 5% but we won’t get into the inferiority of American food right now) and can even be found up to 85%.

So really:
Milk chocolate = (0.56%)(.10) = 0.056% = safe for ninjas with a low tolerance
Dark chocolate = (0.56%)(.43) to (0.56%)(.85) = 0.24% to 0.47% = safe for most ninjas with a moderate tolerance

Please click here if you need to respond emotionally again: D:

Ok, But Why Aren’t We Dead?

Ah, yes, the survey results. Roughly 2/3 of our moderate tolerance ninjas had never had an adverse reaction to chocolate; the same goes for more than half our low tolerance ninjas, and nearly 2/3 of our sad tolerance ninjas.

What’s up with that? Let’s break it down by group. You may have had a bad reaction if…

Moderate Tolerance Ninjas:
*You were eating super dark chocolate with 85% or more cacao
*You were eating chocolate with extra rude ingredients like soy lecithin (which contains citric acid and is in everythingggggggg)
*You are independently allergic to chocolate

Low Tolerance Ninjas:
*You were eating dark chocolate
*That nasty soy junk again
*You are independently allergic to chocolate

Sad Tolerance Ninjas:
*You should not survive chocolate
*How did 2/3 of us survive this?
*Are 2/3 of us crazy?

Are We Crazy, or is Chocolate Magic?

Here’s the thing, ninjalings. I have an exceptionally low tolerance to citric acid. I cannot breathe if I am in the same room as someone who was next to someone eating an orange 3 hours ago.

And because there was no information on citric acid to be found back when I was inducted into ninjahood, I found out everything the hard way. I went on the assumption that everything but citrus fruits and tomatoes were ok, then paid the price after eating dumb things like sweet potatoes and carrots and yes, even lettuce.

I did not find the list until after I’d found out pretty much everything the hard way – all it did for me was confirm that I was not crazy.

Many, many times, I have eaten a favorite food (see: sweet potatoes) fully assuming it was safe, and then I started wheezing and needed my friends to half carry me back to my dorm.

If only I could sing like Kristin Chenoweth

If only I could sing like Kristin Chenoweth

In other words: expectation does not influence whether or not I have a reaction.

I’m assuming the same is true for most, if not all of you. It’s not like we are talking about dairy or gluten – who the heck expects to react to citric acid? How many months and years did you suffer, researching and swinging wildly with your nunchucks at an unknown target? You are not here because you’re crazy, you’re here because you understand your body well enough to figure out what’s bothering it.

So.

I asked my two favorite M.D.s, my allergist and my homeopath, what the actual heck was going on. Is chocolate made of magic?

Yes, Chocolate is Magic

Both of my doctors agreed that chocolate is, in fact, magic.

“It certainly would make sense that some of your chemical reactivity causes neurological changes that might be reversed by any or all of the mechanisms you mentioned,” said the allergist.

“Cocoa powder is a magical substance indeed. It is so full of nutrition and antioxidants that in the old days tribes indigenous to where the trees grow used the number of them on their territory as a measure of their wealth!” said the homeopath, who then literally proceeded to prescribe me chocolate.

Sidebar: these are my physicians talking to me. Please don’t go prescribing yourself chocolate and then dedicating your Darwin Award to me and the doctors on my dope squad, ok?

Anyways, you may have gathered from my allergist’s response that I wasn’t just asking about my lack of reaction to chocolate – something in chocolate was not only preventing me from reacting to the citric acid it contained, but seemed to be taming my allergic responses in general: chocolate works better than Benadryl for me, especially when my reactions have neurological symptoms. But what’s the secret ingredient?

Turns out, there could be several. Here are just a few:

Nitric oxide – A vasodilator, which means it helps oxygenate your body and brain. It also acts as a neurotransmitter. These two actions might explain why it helps with my neurological symptoms.

FlavonoidsAnti inflammatory and antioxidant. Inflammation is a biggie, ninjalings. Pretty much every symptom ever is the result of an inflammatory reaction: everything from hives to an angry tummy to anaphylaxis. Antioxidants are also important because they keep those little jerks called free radicals from running around in your body and punching everything they touch, though this is more of a long-term helper and not an immediate one.

MagnesiumReduces histamine, which is the instigator of allergic reactions.

There’s probably other stuff, but if I keep researching I’ll never post this 😉

That Was Way Too Long, What Even Did You Just Say

In sum:

  • We’re not invited to Captain Jack Sparrow’s garden party
  • Milk chocolate contains roughly 0.056% citric acid
  • Dark chocolate contains anywhere from 0.24% to 0.47% citric acid
  • Lots of ninjas who shouldn’t be able to eat chocolate can eat it
  • Chocolate is magic

507e3-tumblr_lp48tb2le51qj5hy3o6_250

So What Should *I* Do, Lemon Ninja?

Well, Ninjas in Training, this is a highly individualized question.

Bottom line: listen to your body.

Every ninja is different and some of you will not be able to eat chocolate. Some of you will. Either way, please be safe if you decide to experiment! Listen to your intuition and don’t try something you’re unsure about. If you’re prone to dangerous reactions, talk to your doctor about it first – if you get the green light, try a VERY SMALL AMOUNT, and do so in the company of emergency meds and a friend who knows what’s up.

A general procedure to follow:

  1. If you’ve been eating chocolate without a problem, eat on
  2. If you’ve had a reaction to chocolate, check the ingredients. If it contains anything other than chocolate liquor, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and cane sugar, you may be reacting to the extra ingredients (especially if there is soy involved)
  3. If there were no additives, either the cacao% was too high for you, or the magic of chocolate does not work for your body
  4. If there were additives or you think you can handle a lower cacao% (plus you feel brave and desperately need chocolate in your life), find a low cacao%, additive-free chocolate and give it a small try in a safe environment (I recommend Enjoy Life!)
  5. If the magic of chocolate still doesn’t work for you, that’s ok. The recipe I’m about to share tastes absolutely delicious even without chocolate!

 

Lemon Ninja’s Chocolate (or not) Custard

Courtesy of Lemon Ninja, her Abuelita, and her Mommy

Ingredients

Chocolate Sauce
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup water
6 Tablespoons organic powdered cocoa

Crema Pastelera
3/4 cup organic sugar
2/3 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 cup rice milk
6 egg yolks

Notes: This recipe is equally delicious with or without chocolate. It is also equally delicious as a pudding or a frozen custard. You can use anywhere from 4-8 egg yolks – more makes it richer and more flavorful, especially in the non-chocolate version. If you can, get organic chocolate. You’ll thank me later.

Part One: Chocolate Sauce

  1. Dissolve sugar in water in a small sauce pan while heating; it should get a little thick.
  2. Add cocoa and stir till dissolved.
  3. Set aside to cool.

Part Two: Crema Pastelera

  1. Mix flour and sugar in saucepan.
  2. Add in rice milk.
  3. Stir while warming over medium heat; when it begins to steam, turn the heat down and continue mixing until thickened.
  4. Remove from heat, add eggs and mix thoroughly.

Part Three: The Third Part

  1. Once both the chocolate sauce and crema are cooled to room temp, mix them together.
  2. Pour the custard into a freezer friendly storage thing, or into individual plastic cups for easier nomming later on.
  3. Let cool in the fridge for about an hour.
  4. Move the custard to the freezer and impatiently wait for it to get frozen.
  5. Eat it. All of it. At once. 😀

That’s all for now, my ninjalings.
Until next time, when life gives you lemons, RUN!
The Lemon Ninja

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Awkward Ninjas

Greetings, Ninjas in Training!

Thank you for all the tips and questions you’re sending in! I am slowly but surely chipping away at those emails and site updates. But today, I thought I’d address a more fun topic… or rather, the topic of lack of fun. Ninja Adam writes:
“Can you have a social life with this horrible allergy? I have the same, and likely as severe. I have found that most social situations involve food.”

How right you are, Ninja Adam. This is especially true in college, where the average student can’t even be bothered to attend a meeting without the allure of free food, and if they’re going to do something as drastic as leave campus? There had better be food involved! If food is not your friend, it’s pretty easy to end up-

Luckily, we don’t have to be! The short answer to your question is yes- of course you can have a social life, but you have to get creative. The long answer is, well, long… also awkward, and differs depending on how sensitive you are.

In my 7 years of ninjahood, I have been at various levels of sensitivity, so I will be drawing from those different time periods for different answers. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to eliminate my chemical sensitivities as a factor, and focus on food. Hats off to all of the awesome friends I mention in this post, who went out of their way to work around both issues!

With that, let’s examine a variety of awkward of situations, and some ninja moves you can whip out to make them fun:

The Awkward Restaurant

Suppose you have some friends who want to meet up for dinner tonight. If they haven’t already picked a restaurant, now’s your time to jump in and suggest a place that you know has some safe foods.

But what if they’ve already picked a place? You’ve got a couple of options: you can ask your friends if they’d be willing to go someplace else, or you can hop on the internet and start investigating. Check out the menu and look for potentially safe foods. Call the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager- explain that you have an unusual allergy, and are wondering if they might help you check the ingredients. (Side note: although we aren’t sure of the exact mechanism that causes lemons to attack us with nunchucks, what matters here is the end result- if your reactions are serious enough to be reading this website, call it an “allergy” so you will be taken seriously.)

If there is something questionable, like a pre-made sauce that might have one of many potentially evil ingredients, explain that there are so many billions of words that might mean “citric acid” that it’s much easier just to know all the ingredients, rather than giving them a list to go hunting for. You might ask if they can just have the label ready for you to read on arrival, or they might offer to read you the ingredients over the phone.

Either way, be cheerful and appreciative no matter how frustrating it is to explain the madness! Remember that ninjahood is freaking complicated, and you may have to explain more than one way. And while patience is a good thing, if you find yourself talking to someone who really doesn’t understand or won’t take you seriously, don’t be afraid to ask to speak to someone else. Safety first, ninjalings!

We started out with this scenario because it was the easiest; here are some more tips on eating out.

But what if you can’t eat out? What if you are sensitive enough that food from not-your-kitchen is not an option? Or what if you don’t have time to check out the menu… say, you all went out to a movie and everyone just decided to get some dinner or ice cream on the fly? That brings us to…

The Extra-Awkward Restaurant

Ninjas who can’t eat out, but can still be around food, have a few options.

The first option I like to call the stuff-your-face-before-you-leave method.

This method is relatively self-explanatory: stuff your face before you go anywhere, no matter what time it is. That way, if an outing lasts longer than planned, you’ll be okay to sit down someplace while your friends eat.

The second option is food smuggling. I used to carry a water bottle and a bag of pretzels with me everywhere in my purse. That way, if I got insanely hungry while out with my friends, I had something to munch on, thus eliminating the potential for hunger sucking the fun out of everything. Guys, if you want to have fun and your pockets aren’t big enough, you may just have to suck it up and carry a man-purse.

Either that or you can bring something like gum (watch out for soy in that stuff!) that will stave off your tummy rumbles until you get home.

The third option is starvation. Sometimes it’s worth it 😛

The Awkward Explanation

“But Lemon Ninja,” you say, “do you have any idea how awkward it is to be sitting there with people and be the only one not eating?” Yes. Yes I do. It is totally awkward the first couple of times, and then after awhile you get used to it. Having something of your own, even just water, definitely helps for those awkward pauses in conversation when you usually awkwardly take a bite of something to pretend that nothing is awkward, and you were totally about to take a bite of food anyways, and in no way are stalling while you think of something to say. Unless the water had lemons in it, in which case it just leads to an even more awkward Epi-Pen party. (Seriously, be careful with that restaurant water.)

But what about the others? People can get really uncomfortable, or even feel guilty eating in front of people who aren’t eating, especially if it’s just the two of you. This is why it’s important, especially in very small groups, to let people know beforehand that you will not be eating, but genuinely do not mind it, and just want to enjoy their company. It’s an awkward conversation to be sure, but it’s much better than the one that happens after your one friend orders their meal and you just hand back your menu sans order.

Most of the time, people will be curious about your food restrictions and ask questions about it. Take this as a compliment- they are interested in your ninja awesomeness and want to know more! While it can get a bit old answering the same questions all the time, just remember that this person has never asked you before, so the questions are new to them. Explain as such, and what started as an awkward conversation can take some pretty interesting turns!

So that’s all good and fun, but what about those of us who can’t go to restaurants or food places at all? If I went on a trip to a restaurant, it would actually just be a detour on the way to the ER. Which brings us to…

The Awkward Isolation

If the smell of food literally makes you die, mealtimes can kind of suck, especially in college. Meals are when everyone socializes, and isolation from food means isolation from people. The only way to make them not suck is to make friends with extremely awesome people who are willing to visit you with safe food. I had a number of people, including my roommates, neighbors, and even a friend from my church group who made the effort to pick out a non-ninja-murdering food every once in awhile, bring it to my dorm or apartment, and share a meal with me.

You may think it’s hard to find people like this, but you’d be surprised how many people are willing to do this if you just ask- believe it or not, people like it when you indicate that you want to spend time with them! And of course, there are always going to be some extra special people who you don’t even need to ask- they just show up at your door with dinner.

Okay, maybe not that special…

But how do you find these people? If you’re a lucky college student, fate will stick you in a dorm room with them. Otherwise, you’re going to have to be proactive…

The Awkward Friend-Finding

One of the smartest things I’ve ever done was to seek out a friend with food allergies. I met my junior year roommate through a Facebook food allergy group- we decided to live together even though we pretty much had opposite allergies (she’s allergic to nuts, one of the only things I can eat is nuts) because we figured we were safer with someone who “gets it.”

This not only turned out to be incredibly true, but also applicable to our social lives. We were both already on the lookout for food-free fun, and being together made it just that much easier to find. We were able to do things together–like full day road trips and even traveling across the country–that would have been much harder to do with someone who didn’t have to carefully schedule every meal. When we couldn’t attend big events, like the senior banquet, we got dressed up and had our own banquet in our apartment. Basically, everything we did together was awesome.

We may or may not have climbed a statue...

We may or may not have climbed a statue…

Whether you’re in college or not, another great way to find awesome people is to get involved in some kind of activity. Find something you love and you’ll find people you love too- I can’t tell you how many gems I found through my campus church group, student-run orchestra, and community service groups. A lot of community service things do involve food, but there are just as many that don’t: look at things that aren’t full-day commitments and you’ll find plenty of food-free fun!

Unfortunately, even activities that generally don’t involve food will almost invariably have some kind of social event that involves food. What do you do then?

Awkward Advocacy

If you want to get in on the fun, but you’re ‘fraid of food, you’re going to have to take names. By which I mean, of course, the names of the people organizing said event.

Before every concert, my orchestra hosted a rehearsal, then a dinner backstage.  The original idea was, of course, pizza. Even if I had stayed away during dinner, I might have met an early end thanks to pizza air being blown at the back of my head through a trombone, so I talked to the officers who were organizing dinner. I gave the suggestions for foods that would allow me to safely play in the concert, and they went out of their way to make sure none of the sandwiches they ended up ordering had dangerous toppings or dressings.

Granted, these people were also my friends, but people are just awesome and inclusive in general; you really don’t have to know them to reach out for a little help in socializing. You might even make new friends- once when I was a wee sophomore, I really really wanted to go to ladies’ night for my church group, so I oh-so-bravely emailed the senior who was organizing the event. I didn’t know her and was very nervous about it; not only did she make sure we went to a place I could be safe and have fun, she ended up being one of those people who came all the way to my dorm to eat dinner with me some nights.

I could go on and on about the times people went out of their to make big events safe–like the time my neighbor approached me and my also-allergic roomie to ask what foods not to have at her party so we could attend–but the fact is that it’s not always possible. Still, don’t be afraid to talk to people about your restrictions and ask if you can be accommodated. The worst they can do is say no, which is very nearly always for logistical reasons and not because they hate you.  Accommodating a ninja is complicated!  It’s helpful if you’re respectful of people’s time, offer help and suggestions, and make contact way, way ahead of time so they don’t have to scrap any work they’ve already done.

(But what if they say no?)

Awkward No

Sometimes, you’re going to be stuck on the outside looking in. The key to being a happy ninja is to find someone who’s willing to be standing out there with you.

image

This picture is from senior night at my campus church group. It was being held in (and alas could not be moved from) a room whose air ducts were basically directly connected to Subway, so I couldn’t be in there for more than a minute without struggling to breathe. My friend, who was also being honored that night as a senior, elected to stand outside with me, in the rain, the entire night. It was one of the best nights ever.

Sometimes you have to get a little unconventional to have fun. Sometimes people will come to you, and sometimes you’ll have to take initiative to organize a get-together yourself.

To give you some ideas, here’s a list of things I’ve actually done with some awesome people:

  • Held a weekly Glee-watching party (don’t judge, it used to be a good show!)
  • Gone to a safe coffee shop and brought my own hot chocolate
  • Attended nerdy lectures at the medical school
  • Taken a walk to nowhere
  • Gone storm chasing and made a documentary out of it
  • Watched a midnight movie premiere
  • Driven across the state and back in one day to see Wicked
  • Gone to theatre shows within a reasonable distance
  • Organized and choreographed a flash mob
  • Gone sledding and ice skating
  • Attended a wedding via Skype
  • Attended shows at our school’s theatre
  • Invited people over just to hang out and talk
  • Fed the ducks at the park
  • Cut out felt mustaches to wear while playing Pirates (without warning our conductor beforehand)
  • Attended a massive water balloon/mud fight for Holi
  • Gone to concerts
  • Walked around outside taking pictures of everything
  • Watched stupid YouTube videos
  • Created stupid YouTube videos

It can be anything! You CAN be social when you’re a ninja. You just need a few tricks up your sleeve.

And if all else fails? There’s always the internet.

No, seriously. I’ve made some really awesome friends on the internet. If you really can’t leave your house, like I can’t, you’d be amazed what kinds of connections you can make through volunteering, blogging, and/or mutual obsessions interests on the internet. I’ve met people who I can talk to for hours at a time, people who have overcome the odds and who inspire me to keep striving for the same, and people who send me love when I’m having a bad day.  (I’ve even met people who take the time to create silly YouTubes of people crying in cars, just for a blog post- thanks Judith!)

The internet is awesome- just use common sense and don’t talk to creepers, y’all.

That’s all for now! Until next time, when life gives you lemons, RUN!
The Lemon Ninja