• Despite the overwhelming benefits of dark chocolate, there is one perceived negative that turns some sweet milk chocolate lovers off – it’s bitter taste. (Moment RF/Getty Images)Source: Moment RF/Getty Images
Dark chocolate is often touted as the healthier choice. For those who haven't found that chocolate gear yet, fret not. Here's how you can begin to train your brain to actually enjoy the flavour of dark chocolate.
Yasmin Noone

10 Apr 2022 - 7:37 AM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2022 - 9:01 PM

When you consume a square of decadent dark chocolate, you’re not only devouring its luscious velvety flavours, you’re embracing ancient wisdom.

Long before confectionary brands manufactured dark chocolate eggs, Amazonians throughout Central and South America were using cacao pods to treat medical ailments like an upset stomach or kidney issues. Indigenous tribes also used the leaves of the cacao tree as a heart tonic and diuretic.

These ancient peoples knew what we’ve only come to discover in modern times: how wonderful dark chocolate really is for our health.

“Dark chocolate has an acquired taste, just like a straight shot of espresso...” 

Neuroscientist and founder of Cognition Nutrition, Dr Amy Reichelt, explains that dark chocolate is packed with the naturally occurring ‘feel-good’ chemicals that are highly prevalent in pure cocoa.

“Cacao beans have an active ingredient in them, in small quantities, called anandamide," Dr Reichelt says. "It’s an endogenous cannabinoid that’s also called the ‘bliss molecule’ because it’s rewarding in multiple ways.”

Anandamide – a neurotransmitter that targets the same brain structures as THC – assists memory, appetite, sleep and pain relief. Dark chocolate contains theobromine, which reduces inflammation and lowers blood pressure, and tryptophan which helps regulate appetite, sleep, pain and mood.

Studies also show that the regular consumption of dark chocolate can lower heart disease and stroke risk.

Blood oranges dipped in dark chocolate

With their crazy colour, intense flavour and all-round goodness, blood oranges are a favourite here at chez Hansen. Vito Mancini from Redbelly Citrus farm in Griffith says the very best way to enjoy his fruit (other than fresh) is to dip segments in dark chocolate and enjoy cold from the fridge. It’s so very easy and so, so delicious.

Admission: I don't like dark chocolate

Despite the overwhelming benefits of dark chocolate, there is one perceived negative that turns some sweet milk chocolate lovers off – its strong and often bitter flavour.

The reason dark chocolate tastes bitter is due to its high percentage of cocoa (60-95 per cent of cocoa solids). In comparison, milk chocolate contains a lot more sugar and has a maximum cocoa inclusion of 50 per cent.

“Dark chocolate has an acquired taste, just like a straight shot of espresso,” says Dr Reichelt, who is also a Senior Research Fellow (adjunct) at the University of Adelaide.

“In the same way that some people prefer to have a latte or add sugar to their espresso rather than just drinking straight coffee, some people prefer milk chocolate over dark chocolate.”

Reichelt adds that if you consume a lot of sugar in your diet or have a ‘sweet tooth’, you may struggle to acquire the taste of dark chocolate – even if you know it’s good for you.  

A bitter path

If you don't like dark chocolate, but want to start appreciating its flavours, there is hope. Dr Reichelt says the secret to change lies in brain training. 

The first step, she says, is to look at your overall diet and start reducing your sugar intake. Why? It's likely that you perceive bitter flavours to taste more bitter than they really are because your sweet tastes may have been desensitised in the past. 

“If we want to train our brain to like the taste of dark chocolate, one of the main things we can do is reduce our consumption of sugar, generally.

“Once you start cutting down the amount of sugar you consume, your cravings for very sweet foods will stop as you start to relearn different brain pathways. You will also start to become re-sensitised to the flavour of sweet foods."

When you retrain your brain to identify sweet tastes, sweet flavours will taste sweeter and bitter flavours may seem more moderate. “So potentially dark chocolate may taste a lot less bitter to you.”

“Dark chocolate is not one of those foods you want to eat a whole slab of in one sitting because it is so rich.."

Other dark chocolate fans online recommend eating small amounts of the product at a time to familiarise your tastebuds, then increasing the amount consumed slowly.

While that is okay, don’t forget dark chocolate is not supposed to be eaten in excess. “Dark chocolate is not one of those foods you want to eat a whole slab of in one sitting because it is so rich,” Dr Reichelt says. “We also don’t recommend doing that because it can be a stimulant.”

Lastly, the neuroscientist adds, when trying to switch from milk to dark chocolate, don’t go too hard.

“When treat foods are demonised as ‘unhealthy’, people may obsess over them. This makes the food item become valued in your brain. It then becomes harder to resist them as you crave them more.”

If you’re determined to develop a love for dark chocolate, remember the complete picture at play, reduce your sugar consumption and go easy.


Love the story? Follow the author here: Instagram @yasmin_noone. 

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