Greetings, Ninjas in Training!
At last, the most anticipated post topic of the century.
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.
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).
We will come back to these momentarily.
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.
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%.
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
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.
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.
Flavonoids – Anti 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.
Magnesium – Reduces 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
- 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
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:
- If you’ve been eating chocolate without a problem, eat on
- 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)
- If there were no additives, either the cacao% was too high for you, or the magic of chocolate does not work for your body
- 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!)
- 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
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup water
6 Tablespoons organic powdered cocoa
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
- Dissolve sugar in water in a small sauce pan while heating; it should get a little thick.
- Add cocoa and stir till dissolved.
- Set aside to cool.
Part Two: Crema Pastelera
- Mix flour and sugar in saucepan.
- Add in rice milk.
- Stir while warming over medium heat; when it begins to steam, turn the heat down and continue mixing until thickened.
- Remove from heat, add eggs and mix thoroughly.
Part Three: The Third Part
- Once both the chocolate sauce and crema are cooled to room temp, mix them together.
- Pour the custard into a freezer friendly storage thing, or into individual plastic cups for easier nomming later on.
- Let cool in the fridge for about an hour.
- Move the custard to the freezer and impatiently wait for it to get frozen.
- 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