Any article that contains positive information on the health benefits of chocolate gets top billing in my book. And seeing how millions of us will be indulging on that very item today, I thought it only fitting to share some of those tidbits with you, too.

Let’s begin with why we love it in the first place. Maybe its velvety texture arouses the senses as it slides across the tongue. Or maybe it’s because cocoa is married to sugar and fat, certainly other true loves. It might also have something to do with our brains since eating cocoa actually boosts the brain’s production of serotonin – that ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter.

Ultimately though, like any good love affair, a relationship with chocolate should leave you feeling fulfilled, not guilty. Cheap chocolate – what you find lining the display racks along grocery store aisles – is sometimes grown and harvested in ways that exploit farm workers, damage the environment and endanger children. That’s just not happy or anything we might ‘love.’ The question then becomes, is organic and fair-trade chocolate as satisfying as its less expensive competitor? Happily, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’

Growing awareness of dreadful working conditions and destructive environment practices, along with a rising demand for healthier versions of decedent confections has resulted in greater availability of high-quality-made cocoa products. (For more information, check out the documentary “The Dark Side of Chocolate.”) Some of my favorite fair-trade brands are: Endangered Species (which also donates a portion of their earnings to “partners that protect and preserve wildlife”), Madecasse, TCHO, Divine and locally, Kollar Chocolates of Yountville, to name just a few.

At the center of chocolate’s health benefits are flavonoids. These plant pigments contain similar health benefits to many fruits and medicinal herbs. Not only is chocolate rich in these compounds but it also increases their absorption. And you already know, the higher the percentage of cocoa, the higher the dose of nutrients. Seventy percent and above is an ideal target.

A few more points to note:

Unlike saturated fats found in meat and dairy, the saturated fats in chocolate do not elevate cholesterol levels.

Chocolate flavonoids prevent excessive clumping of blood platelets, which can cause blood clots.

And we all know it’s good for the heart. Isn’t that what we’re celebrating today?

Ooey Gooey Chocolate Cakes in a Mug

Serves 2

Talk about quick and easy! While I normally don’t approve of microwave cooking, these “cakes” are the BOMB. They are made in coffee mugs in the microwave for a nearly instant dessert. To keep the cakes from overflowing, I use bittersweet chocolate with cocoa powder; cocoa powder has less fat, which produces less steam, thus less chance of an overflow. Microwaving the cakes on 50 percent power was the key to cooking them gently, helping create a light, tender crumb, and stirring the batter halfway through ensured even cooking. Finally, a few chunks of bittersweet chocolate added to each cake created a gooey, molten center.

Make sure to use a mug that holds at least 11 ounces or the batter will overflow.

4 Tbsp/ unsalted butter

1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped, plus 1 ounce broken into 4 equal pieces

1/4 cup sugar—coconut sugar is my favorite

2 large eggs

2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

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1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup flour (I use oat flour)

1/2 tsp. baking powder

Microwave butter and chopped chocolate in large bowl, stirring often, until melted, about 1 minute.

Whisk sugar, eggs, cocoa, vanilla, and salt into chocolate mixture until smooth. In separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Whisk flour mixture into chocolate mixture until combined.

Divide batter evenly between 2 (11-ounce) coffee mugs.

Place mugs on opposite sides of microwave turntable. Microwave at 50 percent power for 45 seconds. Stir batter and microwave at 50 percent power for 45 seconds (batter will rise to just below rim of mug).

Press 2 chocolate pieces into center of each cake until chocolate is flush with top of cake. Microwave at 50 percent power for 35 seconds (cake should be slightly wet around edges of mug and somewhat drier toward center). Let cakes rest for 2 minutes and serve. Add a dollop of Three Twins ‘Dad’s Cardamom’ ice cream for extra indulgence.

Email Karen Schuppert at karen@karenschuppert.com.

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