Monday, August 14, 2017

The Argument for Chocolate

I swear, as I write this I can actually hear the readers asking “This is about prepping, not some frou-frou Cosmo article. Why are you bringing up chocolate?”

Well, I have several good reasons. Hear me out.

Argument 1: Macronutrients
Chocolate generally contains a lot of “instant on” energy in the form of carbs and fats, which may be necessary in an emergency. Calories are needed in general if you have to hike out of a disaster, and having calorie-dense foods is important. Fats are important for a number of other reasons, and (for myself at least) one of the most important factors in a disaster is being able to take medication without getting sick - ibuprofin, for example, causes less stomach irritation when consumed with fats and other lipids.

Argument 2: Micronutrients
One cup of milk chocolate chips (such as in trail mix) contains 13 grams of protein, 26% of your daily magnesium intake, and 21% of your daily iron intake, all of which are used in abundance if you are in a physically stressful situation such as bugging out. In addition to that, chocolate contains vitamins B12 and B6, which are energy transport molecules that allow more efficient use of the caloric reserves already inside you. Things like 31% of your daily minimum calcium needs and 17% of your potassium are simply a bonus, since lacking either of those can cause muscle cramping.

Argument 3: Emotional
Chocolate is fun. It tastes good, it packs an emotional punch, it makes a useful trade good, and in a pinch it can keep children quiet. It crosses cultures, nations, and language, and is enjoyed the world around. Chocolate can provide an immense emotional boost to those that consume it, allowing them to continue just a little longer, be just a little nicer, and keep up just for a bit more, be they a border guard who you need to be just a little bit more friendly,  or you when you're just having a hard day,

Types of Chocolate and their Benefits
Once you've decided to keep chocolate in your preparations, you'll find that you face three primary issues: choosing the type of chocolate, acquiring the chocolate, and storing it.

Milk chocolate is the most commonly consumed chocolate in the US. It is higher in calcium, protein and B-12 (an energy transport molecule, often used in energy drinks) than dark chocolate. It comes in a massive variety of forms, from chips to candy bars, and is often easy and fairly inexpensive to purchase right after major holidays (such as Christmas) as long as you aren't picky about quality. It makes an excellent trade good since everyone is used to it, and most people enjoy it in trail mixes, bar form, or “Kisses” (a small individually wrapped chocolate candy).

Dark chocolate has more carbohydrates (sugars, or instant fuel) than milk chocolate does. It also has more iron and magnesium, which are both used by the body during exercise such as extended hiking or weightlifting. It comes in almost as many forms as milk chocolate does, and is almost as available in the US. It is not as popular as milk chocolate, but because many people are quite fond of it, it can still be used as a trade good. It makes a better cooking chocolate for many dishes, partially because there are fewer competing flavors than milk chocolate, and can be substituted for milk chocolate in cooking by addition of milk products, such as canned milk or powdered milk. Dark chocolate is also useful for those who are lactose intolerant or have milk protein allergy, since it can often be acquired without any milk products in it.

White chocolate is not the same kind of chocolate as milk or dark chocolate. It is usually made from cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids, and the taste is quite different from milk or dark chocolate, with a “lighter” flavor. It is actually higher in calcium than milk chocolate, as well as vitamins B-6 and B-12, and slightly higher in fat, but it also lacks theobromine (a caffeine-like chemical that most chocolate contains). It is available in much more limited forms than either milk or dark chocolate, but it is still usually available in grocery stores. It is much less popular than milk or dark chocolate, and so makes a poorer trade good, but because of its makeup it can be more readily used as a sweetener for hot drinks than some other forms. It can also be used as a substitute for some people who are allergic to dark chocolate, as they may not be allergic to the proteins in the white chocolate.

(A note from the author: I have found that people who do not like dark or white chocolate will often enjoy taking one piece of dark chocolate and one piece of white chocolate and eating them both at once, giving a flavor similar to but not the same as milk chocolate).

Purchasing Chocolate
Most people reading this will simply go out and purchase chocolate bars at their local grocery store. There is nothing wrong with this. Chocolate with stuff in it tends to be in either bar or “lump” form. Often the contents are fruit or nuts, but there are several popular candies with wafers in them.

The nutritional breakdown will change according to what is in the chocolate, as will the storage and usage conditions. Chocolate-covered almonds are fairly popular, and contain a lot of protein and calcium compared to most other types of chocolate. Peanut M&M’s are protein heavy and designed to be more shelf-stable than other forms of chocolate. If you decide to go with this form of chocolate, your individual tastes and needs will heavily dictate what is best for you.

Baked chocolate products (brownies, cookies etc.) are commonly available, and are often in shelf-stable individual packaging. These will usually have a lot of flour and sugar added, so they are high in carbohydrates, but are therefore a poor choice for diabetics and similar. They are however useful for people with small children since they are less messy (not mess-free, sadly) than other forms, such as bar chocolate.

(There is a planned upcoming blog post on how to make your own shelf-stable chocolate products.)

Hot chocolate gets its own category because it is the only shelf-stable form of chocolate drink I could find that did not weigh a lot for the amount consumed. Hot chocolate is easily obtainable from individual packets to  bulk containers and everything in between. It can be used for making treats on the road, bribes, trade goods, and a number of other options. It is typically a powder, but there are also solid blocks of it you can purchase, often sold as “Mexican hot chocolate”.

Nutella (and other chocolate spreads) are surprisingly hardy on the road, making them very nice for longer term preps. They come in shelf-stable long term packaging, and name brands (such as Nutella and Jif Chocolate Hazelnut Spread) come in small containers that will fit into jacket pockets. They tend to go well with all sorts of things, and can make a dandy improvised dessert on their own. They can often be purchased in individual servings, and spread well with plastic utensils. The biggest downside is the potential mess, which is especially an issue with children.

There are also many other forms of chocolate for anyone who wants themsuch as UHT chocolate milk (a milk chocolate that has been stabilized with special packaging and high heat), chocolate dust coated almonds, baking chocolate, and even freeze dried ice cream. They all come with advantages and disadvantages.

Once you have decided on what type, remember to add it to your shopping list. Since chocolate (depending upon type and storage conditions) stays good for five years or longer, you should wait until it is on sale after a major holiday in order to save on the purchase price.

Storing Chocolate
That said, there are a lot of other options that you should be considering. What are the storage conditions you have? Is the chocolate going to live on top of a refrigerator (typically slightly warmer than surrounding environment), or on a shelf, or in a cool, dry place? All of these storage conditions effect what kind of chocolate will store well.

For warmer conditions, you may consider something like M&Ms which were originally designed for use by troops in wartime conditions so that they would have comfort food on hand without special storage. For cooler conditions (most of the northeastern US or Canada), you may want larger chunks such as whole chocolate bars or leftover chocolate from holidays such as chocolate Santas or rabbits.

If you are like me, and find yourself tempted to simply snack on it, I find that a zip tie on the bag will keep me from eating it out of boredom. I can still break it by hand, but it takes extra effort. When I can, I vacuum seal the bags.

Please note that chocolate can form a whitish coating under certain circumstances, otherwise known as “bloom”. This does not mean the chocolate has gone bad! If the chocolate is not off in smell or taste, it is probably fine.

Bloom is often the result of moisture in the atmosphere or a slightly heightened temperature. This can also effect “temper”, or the hardening process the chocolate undergoes. Though the texture can be poor, a melted chocolate bar that has been re-hardened is just fine to eat, and can often be salvaged for use in cooking and drinks.

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