The other day my youngest daughter came home from school and told me that her friends told her chocolate was bad. Earlier that morning, I sent her to school with my latest concoction, these Homemade Chocolate Pecan LARABARs. To be honest, if I were a 7-year-old, I'd probably think chocolate was bad, too. As a parent, I've steered my kids clear of store bought cookies, candies, ice creams, croissants and just about anything else that happens to contain chocolate. For the most part, those that I just mentioned aren't exactly doing our bodies any favors when we eat them.
Surprised my daughter came home to warn me about chocolate? Nope. But I did want to talk to her about the difference between something that's store bought and something that's homemade (and potentially much healthier).
You and I know the difference. We know that something that can sit on a shelf for months and months without going bad or getting moldy isn't healthy. Exceptions include dried beans, lentils, oats, for example. For the most part, they're good for you!
On the flip side, foods that go bad quickly are usually healthier. These exceptions include a gallon of buttercream frosting made from scratch or a big basket of home cut deep fried onion rings cooked a la Fry Daddy. Not good. Not good at all.
Let's get back to chocolate. Is it good or is it bad? Well, that all depends how it's processed. The less processed, the better. The more processed, and the more that gets added to it, to worse. Most commonly understood is that a bar of dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate.
I make a lot of desserts using chocolate flavors. Many of those desserts are in my book, The Belly Burn Plan. But they don't contain refined sugars, and they can often be masked as healthy mid-day snacks. These days I've been using a lot of cacao [pronounced: ka-COW] in my recipes, not cocoa powder. Cacao powder, not cocoa powder? Other than the subtle change of letters in each word, there's quite a big difference between the two. Hopefully I can convert you to using cacao a little more often after you read this.
- Cacao powder is the most unrefined form of chocolate powder you can get.
- Cacao powder is made from the bean of the cacao fruit tree.
- Cacao is touted as being one of the most (if not the most) antioxidant food available.
- Cacao has the ability to control appetite due to naturally occurring monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOs). This MAO level allows for "feel good" neurotransmitters, like serotonin, to move around the brain, possibly making you feel better, steering you away from the kitchen.
- Cocoa powder is the de-fatted remains of cacao. Think of cocoa as cacao's leftovers.
- Cocoa powder is refined, meaning it's been processed, reducing the potential of many (but not all) of the antioxidants.
- Unsweetened cocoa powder is still good, and can make you feel good, but won't give your brain the same the same kick it's unrefined variety can.
You can't get to cocoa powder without going through cacao. Provided you purchase unsweetened cocoa powder, you'll still reap some benefit, so don't worry if you have a container of cocoa powder sitting in your kitchen cabinet right now. I'm sure it will go to good use.
Personally, I love the taste of cacao much, much more. It's smoother and so, so rich. The downside is cacao tends to be a little more expensive. That said, a little bit goes a long way.
I love my faux LARABARs because they're full of that rich, chocolately flavor. Surprisingly, I didn't need to use much. I hope you enjoy the recipe. Let me know what you think!
Homemade Chocolate Pecan LARABARs
18 dates, pitted
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup cacao powder (I absolutely love this brand)
1/4 cup water
pinch of salt
1. Using a food processor or a blender (I use this type of Vitamix. I use it probably eight times a day!), add all ingredients and pulse 30- 60 seconds, or until mixture is smooth (expect some small chunks of pecan and dates to remain).
2. Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper.
3. Press the mixture into the pan until it's about 1/4 inch thick.
4. Refrigerate for about an hour, slice, serve or store back in the refrigerator.