Image Credit: Istockphoto

World Chocolate Day may be over - it was on July 7- but do you really need a reason to celebrate its goodness? Well, if you really need convincing...start with a trip to the chocolate factory.

There’s a table full of chocolate in Mirzam, Al Serkal Avenue — and little bowls with chips to taste. Let your nose lead you. The assault of spice — cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom — while heady, is not unpleasant, and the flavours are a nip down the ancient spice route.

After a quick dip into the bowls and a serotonin-spike later, retrace your steps. This is not just a store; it’s a factory where cocoa beans are stored and sorted and eventually become bars of artisanal goodness.

As you enter the boutique, a thick pane of glass separates you from the workshop area; steel instruments hum gently as they roast, crush, meld and transform the pods into sweet treats.

The whole process — from bean to bite — is a seven-day affair, our guide at the factory, Olivia, tells us as we scamper to see the springs of gooey chocolate ebb and flow from one machine to the next.

The wrappers are handmade; and an area at the back supplies sweet coco-based drinks.

This is where taste-buds go to have fun.

For World Chocolate Day, Kathy Johnston, the Chief Chocolate Officer at Mirzam, says, “We have planned a whole day of activities; from 9am, we are having kids’ workshops.”

They will be dipping lollipops into chocolate and decorating them, plus there’s a tasting challenge and games.

In the evening there’s a talk about a special cocoa bean fermentation project that the group has done on a plantation in India.

For adults, “two chocolate workshops will be moulding chocolate bars and putting sprinkles and things like that on them, to make their own Spice Route chocolate. And we are also going to do dark chocolate date-dipping workshops.”

Johnston adds: “Besides that we are going to have five different micro batches of chocolate being made that people will be able to taste and lots of other activities and games happening the whole day.”

Let me hear you say aaaaah.

CHOCOLATE DAY ACTIVITIES IN THE UAE

Try a doughnut

Krispy Kreme is going all-out to spread the cheer this year with chocolate-glazed doughnuts on offer — as long as stocks last. The celebration will start in Auckland, New Zealand, at the stroke of midnight there and then we shall too.

Turkish delight

Take a trip to Grosvenor House Dubai Marina and head to Rüya. Just ignore the crowd — they’re there because of what’s on offer. The new sugary treat, Cikolata ve Susam, is a creamy blend of rich dark chocolate and hazelnut ice cream topped with a swirl of black sesame praline and sesame halwa crumble. Cost Dh45.

Chocolate Tower

Why settle for a tiny bite when you can have a whole tower? Aussie store The Coffee Club brings delicious cocoa-based eats, the best of all is dark chocolate sauce that serves as a plate for a chocolate cake topped with ice cream, chocolate shavings and pistachios.

Dim sum yum

This one is good on any day of the year. Din Tai Fung’s Chocolate Xiao Long Bao is a work of art. And it comes with a picture of how to eat it. Poke a hole in the dim sum and let the steam out. When you feel you can handle the heat, put it in your mouth whole. Melting chocolate pours out the sides and… we’ll we dare you to keep your eyes open.

COCOA IS GOOD FOR YOU

Elizabeth Mathew, Dietician — Nutrition and Lifestyle Management Team at Zulekha Hospital, explains why it may not be a bad idea to keep a little stock of cocoa with you if you have elevated sugar levels.

“Chocolates are derived from beans that contain high quantities of natural anti-oxidants called flavonoids. Mainly, cocoa power contains a high degree of anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are said to be effective in preventing cancer, heart disease, stroke. And especially for diabetes. The antioxidants in chocolate help [us] to use our insulin more efficiently and helps to control our blood sugar more effectively.”

However, she does warn of the pitfalls of going overboard. A little cocoa won’t hurt you, but adding sugar to the mix is a distasteful idea. If you go shopping and veer towards the chocolate aisle always read the label. Sometimes baking chocolate contains only 50-60 per cent of cocoa, which means it has fewer antioxidants.

Mathew says chocolate should have at least 70 per cent of cocoa.

But good taste aside, know that its health benefits come at a carbohydrate-laden price. If you want a quick pick-me-up, make sure your bit of chocolate is 15-30g, says Mathew; sugar levels should stay at 80g.

FUN FACTS ABOUT CHOCOLATE

1. Did you know? The blood in the 45-second shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho was actually made of chocolate syrup?

2. Chocolate can kill you. It’s got high levels of a stimulant called ‘theobromine’ too much of which can cause heart failure, seizures and kidney damage. Here’s the good news. For it to be fatal, you have to eat about 9.9kg.

3. Beans are worth gold — or at least they were. The Aztecs used the cacao bean as currency at the height of their civilisation.

4. Keep those teeth clean. An extract of cocoa was found to be more effective than fluoride in keeping tooth decay at bay — does that mean toothpaste is getting a new flavour?

5. The chocolate train that made a record was 34.05-metres long. It was on display at the Brussels South railroad station, Belgium, on November 19, 2012. It was carved from Belcolade chocolate by master chocolatier Andrew Farrugia (Malta) as part of Brussels Chocolate Week.