How to Shop for Quality Beans and Chocolate
Today we’re going to dive into the topic of beans and chocolate and how to find the best real-food versions at the grocery store.
If you’re scratching your head thinking, “Beans and chocolate? How in the world did these two foods get paired together in today’s Healthy Staples Roundup?” read on.
Yes, it may seem a little odd, but it’s about to all make sense. You see, that bittersweet, sinfully silky dessert called chocolate is made from the cacao bean. Basically, beans and chocolate are extended family. And, in an apples to oranges way, there are health benefits to eating both (in moderation, of course).
So, let’s dive right in and discover how to shop for quality cacao, chocolate and their sister from another mister, beans.
Shopping for Quality Cacao and Dark Chocolate
What’s one thing you couldn’t live without in your home? For us, it’s dark chocolate. Every night after dinner, we head to the fridge to break off a sweet little square from our favorite dark chocolate bar as a simple, guilt-free dessert. Because cacao and chocolate are something many of us can’t live without, we’ll start today’s roundup by breaking down some chocolatey basics.
If you’ve thoroughly browsed the baking aisle of your local store, you’ve likely come across cacao powder, which has become more readily available and widely used in recent years.
Unlike drinking chocolate, which is cocoa powder mixed with sugar and milk solids (think chocolate powder to make chocolate milk or hot cocoa), raw cacao powder is made from the seed of the cacao tree and is packed with antioxidants and flavonoids. What does this mean for you and me? Essentially, the benefits are endless! But those benefits decrease significantly when sugar is added or the cacao bean is processed to make chocolate products.
Like all real foods we’ve discussed before, we need to pay attention to the ingredient label on every single product we buy—cacao and chocolate included.
When it comes down to it, these foods can provide a daily dose of essential antioxidants or they can be a chemistry experiment full of manufactured artificial ingredients.
Here’s what to look for when shopping for cacao and dark chocolate:
- Raw cacao powder, nibs, or whole beans: Look for ones made with ONE ingredient—the powder, nib or bean itself.
- Dark chocolate: Should contain basic ingredients such as cacao beans, cocoa powder, mass or liquor, cocoa butter (no other fats), vanilla and less than 10 grams of sugar. Remember, the more sugar, the less benefits—choose quality chocolate with high cacao percentages (70% or above).
- Chocolate treats, like truffles: If the chocolate is used to make other types of treats, like truffles, you’ll have more ingredients in the mix. Just like other real foods, look for products that include minimal fillers and basic, traditional ingredients like the ones listed above.
- Opt for organic: The cacao bean, from which chocolate is produced, is one of the most heavily sprayed crops in the world. Whether you’re purchasing gourmet chocolate from a shop or scouring the aisles at the local grocery store, opt for organic chocolate.
A few things to avoid
- Avoid chocolate with ingredients such as cocoa butter equivalents (CBEs), emulsifiers (such as soy lecithin and cellulose fibers), vegetable or hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners.
Some of our favorite brands
- Alter Eco Organic Dark Chocolate: This is our absolute favorite organic chocolate right now. It’s fresh, complex and has a sweetness that’s perfectly balanced with just the right amount of bitter flavor.
- Hu Chocolate: Sweetened with palm sugar, this organic chocolate is super delish.
Fresh and Frozen Beans
Okay, now onto the more traditional version of beans. This one is pretty straightforward, so we’ll dive into it next.
Here’s what to look for when shopping for fresh and frozen beans:
- Shop for the legume or bean itself—raw or frozen.
- For a nutritious and cost-effective option, check what legumes and beans are in season and, when possible, shop at local farms, farmers’ markets and orchards. Foods bought at your local farmer’s market are often picked that morning, or the day before, so there’s a good chance they’re much fresher, and more flavorful, than what you’d purchase at the supermarket.
- Frozen legumes and beans are a great option when seasonal vegetables aren’t available. They’re picked during peak ripeness and frozen almost immediately. Because of this, they often retain more nutritional value than their “fresh” counterparts, which are picked, packed and transported over the course of several days to grocery stores.
Dry and Canned Beans
In order to live a real-food lifestyle, it’s critical to change our buying habits and exchange packaged food for fresh ingredients whenever possible. That said, eating real food doesn’t mean you have to make everything from scratch. You can certainly buy food in a package; you just have to be smart about doing so. The goal is progress, not perfection! This is where convenience foods, like canned beans, come into play.
If you take a look in our pantry at any given time, you’ll find canned beans as a back-up for busy nights or impromptu meals (last-minute bean burritos filled with an array of leftovers from the fridge, brown rice tossed with a can of black beans, a squirt of lime juice and a dash of salt for a quick side).
When shopping for dry and canned beans, here’s what to look for:
- Dry beans: One ingredient—the bean itself. .
- Canned beans: Look for beans canned in their own natural juices or water. Basically, the only ingredients should be the legume or bean, water and limited amounts of salt. Look for BPA-free cans.
- Refried beans: There are certain foods worth buying and others that you’re better off making from scratch. In our experience, FfL-friendly refried beans made with basic, real-food ingredients are almost impossible to find at the grocery store. For this reason, we encourage you to try making your own. They’re extremely freezer-friendly and easy to make. We often make a double batch and freeze the extra to enjoy throughout the month.
A few things to avoid
Avoid canned beans and legumes that are high in sodium (more than 400 mg per serving), have added oils or added sugars.
Some of our favorite legumes and beans for you to try:
Another thing you’ll find in our capsule pantry is dried beans. When we’re not pinched for time, we often cook dry beans. It’s easier than one may think—an overnight soak in water, then cook in the slow cooker on low the following day for 8 hours with some garlic, onion and salt. Try It!
Looking for a little culinary creativity? Try these fun recipes:
- Creamy Chocolate Hummus (Fruit Dip + Frosting)
- Chocolate Lover’s Granola
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Nice Cream
- Double Chocolate Banana Muffins
- Healthy Peppermint Hot Cocoa
- Fudgy “Molasses” Cookies
- Copycat Wendy’s Chocolate Frosty
- Blueberry Banana Breakfast Smoothie
- Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Snack Bites
- Post-Workout Protein Cookies
- Rich and Creamy Chocolate Mousse
- The Best Ever Edible Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Legumes and beans
To learn more about real-food basics, check out the rest of our Healthy Staples!