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Celebrating the Cacao Bean at a Chocolate Festival
Is this bean as healthy as other beans? You bet your sweet tooth
Joan Dawson (joanied40)     Print Article 
Published 2008-10-14 10:06 (KST)   
Lexington Market in Baltimore, MD
©2008 Joan Dawson
A friend of mine used to say, "Chocolate is my favorite vegetable. Well, it is a bean, you know!"

And I couldn't agree more. For years, most of us have enjoyed chocolate for the sheer guilty pleasure of it, but today, we can also enjoy it for traits similar to those of vegetables -- it's good for us! Seeking some of these health benefits, I set out to explore the annual Chocolate Festival at Lexington Market in Baltimore, MD.

The Annual Chocolate Festival, hosted inside Lexington Market
©2008 Joan Dawson
Since I have been to another chocolate lover's festival, which was in Virginia, I was a bit disappointed in the size of the celebration in Maryland. After all, chocolate is something we should be celebrating -- and on a large scale! It can help the circulatory system, stimulate the brain, ease or prevent certain symptoms and, possibly, be an aphrodisiac. All those benefits and it tastes good, too!

Lu Mu Candies
©2008 Joan Dawson
The cacao bean has a long, glorious history. The word chocolate comes from the Aztecs and means bitter water because the Aztecs used to make drinks with the cacao beans. Cacao grows in pods on trees in hot, rainy areas, typically around the equator. The pods can be 8 to 14 inches long and hold 20-50 beans each. It takes about 5 months for the pods to ripen. When they are ripe, farmers break the pods and discard the husks that surround the beans. The beans are then fermented, a process that removes the bitter taste. Once fermented, the beans are dried. They then can be packed and shipped to chocolate factories around the world.

Chocolate-covered pretzels
©2008 Joan Dawson
It's only been recently that scientists have discovered the health benefits of chocolate. Most of these studies have found that dark chocolate is healthier for us than milk chocolate. These studies find, for one, that dark chocolate can help lower high blood pressure. Two, dark chocolate contains flavonoids. Flavonoids can act as antioxidants in the body by undoing the harm caused by oxygen. Antioxidants are thought to protect the body against some types of cancer. Three, dark chocolate has been found to help prevent a cough and ease symptoms of diarrhea. Lastly, dark chocolate stimulates the brain by releasing serotonin and raising endorphin levels. Thus, it can boost memory, increase attention span and quicken reaction times.

Now, the jury is out on whether or not chocolate is an aphrodisiac, but it is possible that the release of serotonin in the brain produces a pleasurable sensation. Like anything else, though, remember, chocolate should be eaten in moderation!

Chocolate-covered apples at Konstant's
©2008 Joan Dawson
Delicious fudge
©2008 Joan Dawson
Catoctin Popcorn Co. - popcorn with chocolate and caramel
©2008 Joan Dawson
The festival, of course, did not proclaim the health benefits of chocolate nor did it discuss eating it in moderation. Instead it promoted its great taste, chocolate's best selling point. For three days then, chocolate lovers could indulge their taste buds and take some home to savor for later.

On the day I went, Saturday, about 11 o'clock in the morning, the festival only drew a small crowd. Located in a corner of the landmark Lexington Market, it had tough competition in terms of edible delights. The market has stall after stall of tempting smells and tastes: Hawaiian food, Spanish pupusas, Baltimore crab cakes, Philadelphia cheese steaks, hoagies, hotdogs and more.

Chocolate cupcakes
©2008 Joan Dawson
I ended up buying some chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate and mint fudge and chocolate-covered almonds. The chocolate-covered apples were tempting, but I was saving my appetite for some crab cakes, which, I did have later. I certainly got my fix for chocolate and I look forward to Halloween to indulge my sweet tooth again. But, then again, who needs a special day to eat chocolate? Perhaps we should eat it every day and say, "A chocolate a day keeps the doctor away."

©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Joan Dawson

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