Everywhere, it seems, you hear about the remarkable health benefits of cocoa, the unique and irreplaceable ingredient in chocolate. And sure, it makes sense to think of cocoa as an ingredient in desserts and sweet treats. But—guess what? Cocoa also can be used like a “spice” in savory dishes. Imagine this—adding cocoa to breakfast foods…salads…even pastas. To find out how to get creative with cocoa, our editors called Chef Ken Gladysz, executive chef at the Hotel Hershey, Hershey, Pennsylvania, a company that has really developed the art of cooking with cocoa. Chef Gladysz uses cocoa in everything from barbecue sauce to ravioli—find out how you can, too…

COCOA 101

Derived from the dried seed of the cacao tree, pure cocoa powder delivers a powerful dose of natural flavanols that have been found to prevent clogged arteries…improve circulation…and reduce blood pressure.

You’ll want to look for unsweetened, organic cocoa powder or raw cocoa (also known as cacao) at health-food stores or online. Good brands to try: Sunfood (www.Sunfood.com) and Navitas Naturals (www.NavitasNaturals.com). Unsweetened cocoa powder is the most healthful type of cocoa—it contains 100% cocoa. It can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three years. Avoid Dutch-process cocoa, which has fewer flavanols.

GET COCOA INTO YOUR DIET

Consider adding a spoonful of cocoa powder to your morning oatmeal or granola…or sprinkle it over whole-grain waffles or pancakes. For a healthy snack, dust over yogurt, shakes, smoothies or fruit. If you need to sweeten it, add a little raw honey. Cocoa powder can add zest to pastas…can be used as a flavoring for meat or poultry…and sprinkled into soups. Cocoa powder is delicious when used in combination with other spices (such as chili powder, cardamom, paprika or cumin). It adds a slight chocolate undertone that enhances other flavors.

Cocoa nibs, partially ground cocoa beans also available at health-food stores and online, can be sprinkled into salads and vegetable dishes or added to trail mix.

Cocoa in salad dressing? With salmon? Why not—these inspired recipes from Chef Gladysz show you how you can do it…

Cocoa Curry Salad Dressing

1 Tablespoon garlic, roasted and finely chopped

¾ teaspoon brown sugar

¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard

1¾ teaspoons premade yellow curry paste

5 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ cup orange juice

¼ cup rice vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 cup canola oil

¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons chives, fresh chopped

2 teaspoons parsley, fresh chopped

Place garlic, brown sugar and mustard in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix curry paste, cocoa, orange juice and vinegar to make a paste. Add paste to the first bowl, and mix well. Combine oils, and slowly whisk into the paste mixture. Add pepper, salt and fresh herbs. Mix well. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Refrigerate. To serve, drizzle over salad greens. Refrigerate unused portion.

Cocoa and Toasted-Almond–Crusted Salmon

1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

¾ cup almonds, toasted and chopped

2¼ teaspoons olive oil

8 six-ounce portions center-cut salmon fillets

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Combine cocoa powder, almonds and olive oil, and mix well. Season salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Heat cooking oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Place four fillets in the pan, flesh-side down. Sauté salmon for 1½ minutes, or until the flesh side is golden brown. Place fillets on greased sheet pan, seared-side up. Repeat for other fillets.

Place sheet pan in preheated 375°F oven for four minutes. Remove from oven. Spread 1½ tablespoons of crust mixture over each portion. Return to 375°F oven for one to two minutes or until desired doneness.