City of chocolate

Chocolate isn’t just a guilty pleasure anymore. With current research, studies show that a substance in cocoa helps the body process nitric oxide, a compound critical for healthy blood flow and blood pressure.

Chocolate isn’t just a guilty pleasure anymore. With current research, studies show that a substance in cocoa helps the body process nitric oxide, a compound critical for healthy blood flow and blood pressure. Another study showed that flavonoids in cocoa prevent fat-like substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and clogging the arteries, and make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause clots. Flavonoids are plant compounds with potent antioxidant properties, and scientists have found more than 4,000 kinds so far.

Many people believe that since chocolate is so good, it must be bad—and it is bad if you eat abnormal amounts of it everyday. Eating real chocolate—not that waxy Hershey’s stuff that floats in water—can be good for you. It’s almost like being able to have your cake and eat it too.

Chocolate is one of the most popular food types and flavors in the world. It is native to Mexico, Central and South America, and has been cultivated for at least three millennia in that region. It was used originally in Mesoamerica as both a beverage and an ingredient in foods. Today, it has become one of the most popular gifts for any occasion, from chocolate bunnies and eggs on Easter and chocolate coins on Hanukkah.

Being the chocoholic I am, last week I went on a mission to find the best chocolate in Portland. I visited many different places trying their chocolate, hot chocolate and chocolate-flavored pastries. Here are reviews of some of my favorite places in town.

Cacao: Drink Chocolate
414 SW 13th Avenue
712 SW Salmon St (at the Heathman Hotel)

This chocolate shop is definitely more on the upscale side—with chocolate ranging from not very expensive to very expensive. Everything there is natural, and it was amazing how much the barista was able to tell me about each kind of chocolate and where it was from. I went to the one on the corner of the Heathman Hotel and I liked how small and cozy it was.

There was only a little bar with three chairs, so it is not a place you want to go and stay at with friends for a while. But they have the most amazing hot chocolate and coffee! I ordered a cappuccino and paired it with my favorite chocolate, the Five Spice. I also liked the sage chocolates. They sell chocolate bars, spreads and also chocolate by the piece for $2. They also have 50-cent salt, jalapeño and espresso taffy. Expensive chocolate, but very good quality.

Moonstruck Chocolate
608 SW Alder St.
Pioneer Place (in the rotunda)
526 NW 23rd Ave.

This place offers a variety of different chocolates, and they are all handcrafted. It not only tastes good, but also looks good. The packaging is very pretty too, so I would recommend going here if you are buying a gift for an occasion. Their chocolate is a lot less expensive too, with a large bar of dark chocolate costing $3.50. My favorite chocolate was the Champagne Truffle: an ivory chocolate and champagne ganache, hand-dipped once in dark chocolate and again in ivory chocolate, then hand-decorated and topped with edible 24-karat gold. Sounds very good, and tastes even better.

Teuscher Chocolate from Switzerland
531 SW Broadway

This chocolate shop has an assortment of different chocolates, cakes, cookies, marzipans and fruit jellies from Switzerland. My favorite was the fruit jellies, which are made entirely from natural fruit juices and are free from artificial flavors and chemical additives. Some of the gift boxes and assorted chocolates are $39, but they also have cheaper ones that come with party sets or individual pieces.

Alma Chocolate
140 NE 28th Ave.

The thing I liked most about this place is that it has unique icons of solid dark chocolate that are hand gilded with 23-karat gold leaves. They are very original and carefully crafted, and it makes chocolate look so much more appetizing. Some of the shapes they come in are Celtic crosses, the Virgin of Guadalupe, contemplative Buddha and charming devils. They also have toffees and barks, as well as original chocolate pieces in a variety of unique shapes and tastes. It definitely appeals to all senses.

Sahagun Chocolates
10 NW 16th Ave.

If you get a chance to go here, I definitely recommend getting the Oregon Kiss! It is a delightful piece of chocolate made with organic Oregon hazelnuts, milk chocolate and a smidgen of fleur de sel piped into a bittersweet cup. It is a good way to indulge in chocolate and support local farmers who provide the organic hazelnuts. Now that winter is coming soon, it is the best spot to enjoy some delicious hot chocolate. They make it with real melted chocolate and hormone-free milk. It is $5 a cup, and I guarantee you will come back for more.