On Wellness

The New, Healthier Chocolate

Credit...Mari Maeda & Yuji Oboshi

It was after the birth of her second child that the personal chef Karolina Palmer got into eating clean. “I was growing more interested in adaptogenic herbs and superfoods to support myself in that crazy postpartum period,” she says. Then, Palmer got invited to a potluck dinner. What could she possibly make from a pantry filled with things like ashwagandha and He Shou Wu? Inspiration struck when she spotted a bag of raw cocoa, and decided to whip up chocolate truffles infused with herbal mushrooms, rice bran solubles, maca, goji berries and pumpkin seeds. The batch, she says, was “a hit.”

It was such a hit, in fact, that a year later, in 2016, Palmer launched an entire line of indie chocolates from that same recipe. Called Freaky Health Chocolates, the 1.8-ounce bars ($8) contain her go-to adaptogens (herbs used for centuries in Eastern medicine to revitalize the body) and other healing botanicals meant to do everything from increase immunity to brighten the skin. A Hershey bar this is not.

Palmer is just one of many gurus currently transforming chocolate into a holistic superfood. “It’s delicious, packed with minerals and antioxidants, and I get a little bliss-y from the neurotransmitter-boosting properties in it,” says Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of the Moon Juice apothecary in Los Angeles, of her chocolate obsession. But unlike the sugar-laden, processed varieties, this next-generation breed of chocolate is made with raw, or minimally heated, cocoa beans to preserve their antioxidant benefits. The beans are typically sun-dried, slow-ground and blended with the kind of tinctures found in your favorite health food store.

At Moon Juice, Bacon’s most recent creation, Deep Chocolate Adaptogenic Protein ($50), contains ketogenic brown rice and maca root intended to build stamina, energy and drive, and can be stirred into coffee and even baked goods. Cindy diPrima Morisse, the co-founder of CAP Beauty in New York, meanwhile, often sells out of Sun Potion’s gluten-free Anandamide ($26), a powdered blend of raw cocoa, turmeric and cardamom. “It’s essentially an ultra-healthy, spicy hot chocolate,” she says. Sakara Life’s Beauty Chocolates ($45), crafted with skin-plumping phytoceramides, have also developed a cult following. So has The Beauty Chef’s Inner Beauty Chocolate Powder ($80), made with bio-fermented greens (chlorella, kale, spinach) and 12 forms of bacteria to support digestion. Consider it the wellness equivalent of Nesquik chocolate milk.

At a time when everyone seems to be following one (hyperspecific) food plan or another, cocoa appeals to many tribes for its low-sugar, high-nutrient profile. “It works with so many healthy diets from plant-based to Paleo to raw vegan — you name it,” Morisse says. And the taste? Palmer, who considers herself a “chocolate alchemist,” finds that her bars have a “lovely mild sweetness” from the ground mulberries and a slightly fudge-y texture, although still plenty of “snap.” (And importantly, they won’t cause a “major sugar crash.”) Bacon adds that a little cocoa goes a long way toward making botanical concoctions more palatable: “The deep earthy flavor is genius with embracing and smoothing out other less desirable herbal notes.”

Still, Lisa Young, Ph.D, R.D., an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University, points out that you can’t live on cocoa alone, even if it does deliver gut-balancing lactobacillus bacteria and vitamin C. “It’s important to recognize the health halo associated with these chocolates,” she says. “Just because they may have some ‘good-for-you’ ingredients does not mean you can eat as much as you want.” Meaning: everything in moderation.

Palmer, for her part, is already devising new recipes to keep up with demand, and calls cocoa the “perfect vehicle for herbal delivery” for anyone looking to experiment in that area. Also, she adds, “It’s rare to meet someone who doesn’t like chocolate.”