National Chocolate Day – now there’s something to celebrate!

A generic photo of broken dark chocolate on a wooden table. See PA Feature TOPICAL Health Heart. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TOPICAL Health Heart.
A generic photo of broken dark chocolate on a wooden table. See PA Feature TOPICAL Health Heart. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TOPICAL Health Heart.

Today is National Chocolate Day and a chance to celebrate this wonderful treat.

There’s archaeological evidence that the Olmec tribe in Mexico were eating chocolate around 1900BC. The ground beans are bitter and unpleasant in their natural state and need fat and sugar to make them delicious and palatable.

It was a man from Northern Ireland who was the first to discover that adding the dark chocolate to milk transformed it into a drink that could be enjoyed. Hans Sloane, from Killyleagh, was physician to the governor of Jamaica, the 2nd Duke of Albemarle, from 1685.

He noticed that the Jamaican people drank the beans with hot water but the liquid was nauseating. We have him to thank that he had the good sense to add it to sweet milk and the hot chocolate drink was born.

The Quaker families, Cadbury and Fry, were the first to introduce chocolate bars in the mid 19th century. Nowadays we enjoy 605,000 tonnes annually in the UK.

While sugar laden milk chocolate isn’t exactly nutritious, dark chocolate with a cocoa percentage of over 70% is actually good for you. The great news is that a 100g bar contains 67% of the daily recommended intake of iron, 58% of magnesium and plenty of potassium, zinc and selenium – vital for mental health and immune system boosters.

Chocolate has a deep affinity with coffee – there’s nothing better than a hot, rich coffee with a slice of quality chocolate or truffle. Hot chocolate is a warm comforting drink when the weather isn’t so great but this week I’m concentrating on cool, fruity ways with this national treasure.

Chocolate and lime sweets used to be a childhood favourite of mine. Sour lime lozenge filled with dark chocolate. The two flavours work fantastically well together – zingy, fresh fruit with sultry, silky chocolate. I’ve combined them in a chocolate roulade – light chocolate sponge rolled around a lime and chocolate cream. This is great on its own with a cup of tea or even better with chocolate icecream.

We make great icecream in Northern Ireland but if you want to have a go at making your own I’ve included a recipe. Egg yolks and sugar are whisked over a pot of simmering water and combined with melted chocolate and whipped cream.

The chocolate icecream will also go well for my other recipe for white chocolate blondies. Blondies are the white chocolate version of brownies. They’re gooey like the dark chocolate version and go particularly well with summer fruits like strawberries, raspberries and ripe peaches. Top the whole thing off with a dollop of cream, good yoghurt or some icecream. Blondies, local raspberries and dark chocolate icecream would make a sublime summer dessert.

Chocolate is a food that transcends the seasons and serendipitously pairs well with whatever nature provides us with – roasted plums, poached pears and nuts in Autumn, oranges in Early spring, and a myriad of soft fruits right now. But today is a day of guilt free celebration to embrace this wonderful feel good food.