When we ran out of cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve (whoopsie!) I whipped up these super simple but incredibly delicious chocolate almond cherry clusters in 5 minutes flat. In fact, I made so many I ended up giving some away as gifts on Christmas Day.
Paleo and Vegan Chocolate
If you are paleo, be sure to use dark chocoate as your base.
I used Guittard Akoma Organic Extra Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips which contain 55% cacao and no dairy. However, they are shared on the same equipment as milk chocolate so there may be traces and are not good for those with an actual milk allergy.
Other good options are Equal Exchange Chocolate Chips or Hu Gems Snacking and baking chocolate (which is made with coconut sugar!)
If you are vegan, be sure to pick up some vegan friendly chocolate as many brands contain traces of milk or milk fat. I have a complete list of organic, fair trade vegan friendly chocolate at the end of this article.
Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate
We all know and love chocolate. But here’s why we should be eating more of it. Keep in mind, the health benefits are in the cocoa so the higher the percentage and the lower the sugar content the better.
- Rich in fiber, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and a few other minerals
- Has more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than blueberries!
- Activates the nitric oxide system which is a vasodilater and may help to lower blood pressure
- Lowers the bad cholesterol, oxidized LDL
- Raises your good cholesterol, HDL
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Regularly eating chocolate, lowers the risk of developing plaque in the arteries by 32%
- Lowers the risk of heart disease and overall cardiovascular mortality
- May protect your skin from sun damage
- Improves cognitive functioning in the elderly
- Increases blood flow to the brain
How to Choose The Best Dark Chocolate
The highest quality dark chocolate always has chocolate liquor or cocoa listed as the first ingredient.
Sugar is another common ingredient. Some chocolate brands go overboard on the sugar to balance out the bitter flavor of the cocoa. Be sure the first ingredient isn’t sugar and keep in mind the higher (darker) the cocoa, the less sugar content. Compare grams of sugar and find one that has a reasonable amount without dosing you with a flavor you love. A good guide is to choose 70% cacao or above.
Soy lecithin is sometimes used as an emulsifier. This is used in such small amounts it really doesn’t pose any health threat unless you have an allergy.
High quality dark chocolate should not have any milk added to it. Some brands do use milk fat which is essentially butter with the moisture and solids removed. This is fine unless you are looking for a dairy free or vegan chocolate. Avoid trans fat in dark chocolate as it poses a serious health risk. Sometimes manufacturers add it to increase its shelf life.
Dark chocolate also frequently has flavorings added. Vanilla is the most common but nuts and spices are pretty common in these things now days so keep your chocolate organic to be sure the flavorings are not artificial.
Avoid alkalized or dutch processed cocoa or chocolate. This cocoa is great for baking because it is smooth without a bitter after flavor, however, this process also removes most of the health benefits of chocolate. It has been shown that dutch processed cocoa has far less antioxidants in the end product.
Chose chocolate made from fair trade and organic cacao beans whenever possible. This way you can ensure the cacao bean farmers earn a fair price for their product. And by choosing organic you are lowering your risk to sprayed pesticides on the cacao beans as well as artificial flavorings and colorings.
Top Things to Consider When Buying Chocolate
- Cocoa is the first ingredient (70% or higher)
- No unnecessary additives
- Do not buy dutch processed or alkalized chocolate
- Organic and Fair-Trade
Some High Quality Chocolate Brands
- Alter Eco is vegan, fair trade and organic with several flavors of bars to choose from.
- Pascha is made in an allergy friendly facility so it’s free from soy, dairy and wheat. Also vegan.
- Antidote is made from ethically sourced cacao beans and their bars are low in sugar and high in nutrients. They have a large vegan line as well.
- Equal Exchange is fair trade, organic, vegan and their extreme dark chocolate bar only contains 4 grams of sugar.
- Hu is vegan, fair trade, organic and made with coconut sugar.
- Endangered Species is another great brand, most of which are vegan.
- Green & Black’s Organic is technically vegan, however, there is risk of cross contamination with their milk chocolate line of products.
- Theo is a great dairy free vegan brand with several delicious flavors.
- K’UL is another fun brand with just a few simple healthy ingredients.
- Guittard Akoma Organic chocolate chips are fair trade, organic and perfect for baking.
I made a very large batch of these so feel free to scale them down if you want. The measurements are approximate. It’s honestly as many or as little almonds and cherries as you want. I like mine LOADED. Too add a bit more depth and interest to this snack, I sprinkled a little celtic sea salt on top.
Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond Clusters
- 2 cups almonds, raw
- 1 cup dried tart cherries
- 12 oz dark chocolate or chocolate chips See Notes Below
- 1 tsp organic non hydrogenated shortening Palm Oil Based
- 1 tsp celtic sea salt
If You Need to Roast Your Almonds
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
To Melt the Chocolate (2 Ways)
- First, you could use a double boiler over the stove. Basically, fill a pan an inch full with water and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Set another bowl over it with the chocolate and shortening inside and stir it until completely melted.
- Or, you could add the chocolate and shortening to a glass bowl. Place in the microwave and stir after every 30 seconds until smooth.
To Make Clusters
- Pour the toasted almonds and dried cherries in the bowl with the melted chocolate. Stir well. In rounded tablespoons, place on a plate lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the top with a touch of celtic sea salt. Once done, place in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes to set.
- Store in the fridge or at room temp in an airtight container.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012. Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials.
Archives of Internal Medicine. 2007. Effect of cocoa and tea intake on blood pressure: a meta-analysis.
Archive of Internal Medicine. 2006. Cocoa intake, blood pressure, and cardiovascular mortality: the Zutphen Elderly Study.
The Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. 2006. The effect of flavanol-rich cocoa on the fMRI response to a cognitive task in healthy young people.
Hypertension. 2012. Benefits in cognitive function, blood pressure, and insulin resistance through cocoa flavanol consumption in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) study.
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2010. Impact of fermentation, drying, roasting, and Dutch processing on epicatechin and catechin content of cacao beans and cocoa ingredients.