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A chocolate heaven for anyone who's a fan!

It's time once again for the annual New York Chocolate Show and "Today" food editor Phil Lempert has the scoop on the best sweets this year.

Jealous? You don’t have to be. This is one of those shows designed just for consumers and is open starting today, Friday November 10 and goes through Sunday.

Imagine, 400,000 square feet of the most interesting, most indulgent and most delicious chocolates from around the globe. One of the best benefits of attending the New York Chocolate Show, besides having my taste buds dancing, is that you can actually learn all about the making and finishing of chocolates, attend chocolate cooking demonstrations and actually meet some of the world’s finest chocolatiers.

Why is chocolate worthy of its own show and taste extravaganza?
Do you really need to ask? There's something undeniably mystical and irresistible about chocolate. The creamy, silky texture, the deep, dark, elegant color, the exquisitely sweet, rich flavor, the tantalizing aroma — the seductive characteristics of chocolate can arouse the senses and send one's pulse racing to new heights. The experience of a forbidden piece of pure chocolate deliberately melting on the tip of your tongue is sheer ecstasy, one of life's most pleasurable moments. No wonder chocolate is often referred to as decadent and why it was forbidden in strict religious groups. Indulging in the luxurious stuff feels so good it must be bad!

The universal love affair with chocolate will continue. And now just to make your mouth water, here are my picks of this year’s best!

Chocolat Michel Cluizel Once Upon a Bean: A tasting tour of chocolate production, from the unroasted cacao bean to the superlative final chocolate creation. The package includes cocoa butter, cacao mass, cacao nibs, and several samples of white chocolate, blended 45 percent Grand Lait chocolate, 72 percent perfect Noir chocolate, 85 percent Grand Noir chocolate and a single plantation dark chocolate. Also included is a booklet which guides you through the chocolate making process and introduces you to the art of fine chocolate. (105g/3.67oz, $40 -

With the European influence:

(L.A.) Burdick Mice & Penguins: The mice and penguins are Larry Burdick's signature novelty chocolate, adopted from the chocolatieres of old Europe, who used leftover pieces to create whimsical figurines for children. (9 pc/wooden box, $32 -

John & Kira's Fall Fig "Pumpkin" Bonbons: They take fragile calabacita figs from Spain, fill them with a delectable whiskey clove ganache, and dip them in a thin layer of white chocolate tinted a perfect shade of pumpkin. The perfect gift for the fall, they come as 12 packed in a wood box. Each one delectably unique. ( $32 -

Donna & Company - Cielo (means heaven in Italian) Tuscan Style Chocolates: Cielo Cherry Balsamic: A dark chocolate ganache with decanted balsamic vinegar enrobed in dark chocolate and garnished with a cherry piece. Decanted balsamic vinegar imparts a taste similar to sweet port wine which offsets the rich dark chocolate components. Cielo Crema Tricolore: Three layers of heaven: giaduja, hazelnut and dark chocolate. The layers merge and interact with each bite, creating a swirl of flavors that shift playfully and linger on the palate. 
Cielo Olive Oil and Salt: Rich, non-filtered olive oil and Fleur de Sal marry these luxurious and surprising flavors in a dark chocolate base with a milk chocolate drizzle finish. The olive oil imparts a dusky element that is normally occupied by lighter butter in the ganache — a typical Tuscan touch. (Six piece box (2 of each flavor)  $13.50 - also available 20 pcs. $45 -

Berkshire Bark: Top quality Belgian chocolate:  Midnight Harvest: Callebaut dark chocolate, fresh roasted almonds & hazelnuts, dried cranberries, fresh orange zest.Mocha Buzz: Callebaut milk chocolate, fresh roasted almonds, homemade caramel, cocoa nibs, crushed coffee beans.White Lightning: Callebaut white chocolate, fresh roasted cashews, crystallized ginger, fresh lemon zest.Tropical Heat: Callebaut dark chocolate, fresh roasted macadamia nuts, dried mango, dried papaya, dried pineapple, toasted coconut, Ancho chile powder, cayenne pepper (2.8 oz. bars  $4.25 each)

Kopper's Chocolates Dazzle Collection:  Almond Jewels: Whole dry-roasted, premium select almonds are covered in a rich dark chocolate, and then finished in a new, utterly unique dazzle-jeweled finish.  Each piece is literally a work of art. These pieces look like they are foil wrapped or have a thick candy shell, but they’re not. There is just a paper thin touch of dazzle color right on the outside of the chocolate.  ( One pound tin retails for $14-15

SweetRiot: World’s first line of chocolate-covered cacao nibs, so you can experience the real and true flavor of chocolate — the cacao bean! Available with 50 percent, 65 percent or 70 percent dark chocolate. (One ounce package retails between $3.99-$4.99 -

Cosmic Chocolate Cosmic Bombs:  Various varieties including Dazzling Drops (Cola & Tequila infused Caramel encased in milk chocolate truffle shell adorned with lemon sugar and sea salt),  Cuban Moon (Lime, Mint & Rum infused syrup encased in dark chocolate truffle shell adorned with lime sugar. (

For that extra bit of antioxidant power! Dina’s Chocolate certified organic, 74 percent cacao, no refined sugars and dairy-free.

Dina’s Chocolate 74% Cacao Dark Chocolate with Organic Goji Berries: Dark chocolate is liberally blended with whole organic Himalayan goji berries. Goji berries are considered to be one of the most concentrated food sources of antioxidants. These bars are rich in nutrients and bursting with goji berries’ delicious flavor!

Dina’s Chocolate 74% Cacao Green Tea Dark Chocolate: This 74 percent Cacao Dark Chocolate is infused with the finest organic Japanese green tea. The result is a chocolate bar as smooth as milk chocolate that is packed with antioxidants.

Knipschildt Chocolatier: New exotic chocolate bars in three flavors called Eve Kitten.  Knipschildt has been working with illustrator Nancy Bacick, who's artwork has been screen printed on top of three sexy chocolate bars: Coffee (a rich milk chocolate bar), Rose (A 70 percent dark chocolate bar), and Cherry (a 70 percent dark chocolate bar)  $6/bar (

Truly Jörg's Pâtisseries Chocolate Sushi Samplers: They look like real sushi, but these are hand made and hand painted chocolate and marzipan “sushi” samplers flavored with all-natural essences and tinted with all-natural food coloring. Flavors include: Apricot, raspberry lemon, cinnamon, praline, orange, white chocolate and mocha with almond flavored “wasabi” and ginger flavored white chocolate garnish plus a chocolate dipped fortune cookie. ($28 plus $6   shipping (ground) and handling (approximately seven ounces). Available in two packages: 7 ounce ($28) and 13 ounce ($54)

And what you may not realize is that chocolate is one of the world's oldest and perhaps healthiest foods:
Over 3,000 years ago, Mayans and Aztecs of the Americas cultivated cacao beans from the tree Cacao theobroma of which chocolate is made. New research shows that the enticing chocolate morsels are potent little packages of health conferring chemicals. Chocolate may prevent free radical damage which can lead to cancer, prevent heart disease, enhance our immune system, and give us a feeling of well-being.

Like some other plant foods, chocolate is chock full of a wide range of antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, including the procyanidins epicatechin and catechin. Fruit, vegetables, wine, and tea have polyphenolic flavonoids as well, but amazingly polyphenols are found in much higher abundance in chocolate and cocoa. The amount of polyphenols in milk chocolate is equivalent to that of five servings of fruits and vegetables. The following is the measurement of the polyphenol content in 1.25 ounces of cocoa products:

-Milk chocolate 300 mg -Dark chocolate 700 mg -Cocoa powder 1,300 mg

Polyphenols are antioxidants that help the body's cells resist damage from free radicals, which are formed in normal body processes as well as by environmental pollution, poor diet, alcohol and drug use, and smoking. Free radicals can damage cells, thereby causing cancer and accelerated aging of the body systems. Polyphenols in cocoa also minimize the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, a major factor in the promotion of coronary disease such as heart attack and stroke. Reducing the oxidation rate of LDL cholesterol may be just as important as reducing the level of LDL cholesterol. Polyphenols also help inhibit platelet aggregation and activation, meaning it helps prevent platelets from clumping together, therefore reducing the risk of arteriosclerosis. Cocoa polyphenols also seem to thin the blood, which slows the rate of coagulation, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

And now a new study by Ciara McCabe and Edmund Rolls of Oxford University in England, found that people who crave chocolate, or even just looking at a picture of it, turns on pleasure centers in the brains of cravers far more than in people who don't crave the confection. Viewing pictures of chocolate also activates an area of the brain known to be involved in drug addiction.

Chocolate is a mood enhancer
Now that the myth that chocolate is bad for us is behind us, let's talk about what it is about chocolate that makes so many of us swoon? It turns out that chocolate is a mood-enhancer after all. Chocolate contains phenethylamine (PEA), which stimulates the nervous system, triggering the release of endorphins, opiate-like compounds that dull pain and give a sense of well-being. There are also chemicals in chocolate that increase the activity of dopamine, a neurotransmitter directly associated with feelings of sexual arousal and pleasure. Additionally, chocolate can also boost brain levels of serotonin, the happy neurotransmitter, especially in women who tend to be more sensitive to chocolate than men. And yet another way chocolate can make us feel good is by inhibiting the natural breakdown of anandamide, a neurotransmitter normally found small amounts in the brain, which can produce a feeling of euphoria. Scientists question whether the concentrations of these chemicals present in chocolate can actually produce a significant affect on our moods. But many women will contend that research or no research, satisfying a chocolate craving can work wonders.

Fat and sugar
But, let’s get back to one of the questions about chocolate: What about the fat and sugar? Depending on the kind of fat in the chocolate, it might not be as bad as you might think. Good quality chocolates are made with cocoa butter, a fat comprised of approximately one-third proportions of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat like in olive oil, and stearic acid and palmitic acid, which are saturated fats. Oleic acid has been shown to lower both total and LDL cholesterol. And interestingly, although stearic acid is a saturated fatty acid (SFA), unlike other SFA's, it does not seem to affect blood cholesterol. Palmitic acid, however, does raise blood cholesterol, so even good quality chocolate should be eaten in moderation. Remember, not all chocolate is made with cocoa butter, so be sure to read labels.

Chocolate contains stimulants such as caffeine. One 1.5-ounce bar of dark chocolate contains about 30 milligrams of caffeine, milk chocolate contains 10 mg, and an 8-ounce serving of hot cocoa contains 5 mg. In comparison, an 8-ounce serving of brewed coffee contains 135 mg of caffeine, 12 ounces of Mountain Dew contains about 56 mg, and cola contains about 35 mg. Another caffeine-like stimulant in chocolate is theobromine, which can cause fatal cardiac stress in dogs, so be sure to keep the chocolate away from Fido. Theobromine is actually weaker than caffeine, and it doesn't have a strong effect on humans. Chocolate also contains healthful nutrients, such as the minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper, which are essential for normal biological functions, growth, metabolism, and oxygen transport.

When you do want to indulge, choose the darkest, richest chocolate you can find made with quality cocoa butter. Chocolatiers such as many of the European chocolatiers who were at the New York Chocolate Show (and listed below) make dark chocolates containing 70 percent or more cocoa. The average chocolate bar contains about 40 percent. The higher the cocoa content the more beneficial the bar.

For more information about the New York Chocolate Show visit Tickets are $25 and available online at or by phone at 212-307-7171. The Metropolitan Pavilion is located at 125 West 18th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) in New York City.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the “Today” show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .