Cacao is one of the richest food sources of antioxidants and considered to be one of the world’s most potent superfoods.
Cacao is a super-food and that means it consists of high-quality properties; things like minerals, vitamins, antioxidants — properties that are disease fighting and anti-aging. History goes that that cacao was first discovered by people called the Olmecs — they noticed rats enjoying it very heartily, and then realized that this ‘stuff’ came from a tree producing the wonderful flavors of chocolate.
They were probably the first humans to eat of the cacao beans — later crushing the beans and adding spices and herbs; then cultivating it in their Mexican environment. Gradually the Mayans and Aztecs also cultivated cacao, even using it as a monetary and measuring unit.
Cacao became noted as a symbol which meant abundance, and it went on to be used even in religious ceremonies.
Here’s what is covered in this article:
- The History Of Cacao
- Using Cacao To Make Chocolate
- Cacao Vs Cocoa
- The Benefits Of Chocolate
- Using Organic Cacao
Cacao Has A long and Interesting History
- Drinking cacao was once deemed to be only a privilege that the rich could enjoy and sometimes embattled soldiers during wartime would drink it too. Then in 1502, Columbus saw his first glimpse of the cacao bean when he stopped over in Nicaragua, but the real importance of the ‘brown gold’ was only recognized when Hernando Cortez drank some of it with Montezuma, the famed Aztec emperor, and he brought it to his Spanish courts later in 1528. He also brought over the necessary equipment so that it could be brewed properly in his country. But still, it was not yet recognized for its importance even then. It was in 1585 that a shipload of cacao beans was sent to the Iberian Peninsula from Spain, and this launched the cacao trade; after which chocolate shops were started which heralded in a demand for this delicious ‘nectar’ of the new world.
- Moving forward, the very first chocolate sweet appeared in 1674 in England and the powder came from the Dutch people in 1828, chocolate bars from Great Britain in 1830 and later, chocolates with hazelnuts in. Switzerland followed with their famous Nestlé chocolates and it was from 1830–1879 that Lindt would develop his chocolate fondant. Later the sweet maker, Hershey started producing chocolate at his Pennsylvania factory in the USA. Today, chocolate is the most popular sweet throughout the world, and people are consuming over 3-million tons of cacao beans in a year. Thing is, chocolate makes everyone feel so good, noted even to be good for the brain and heart. No wonder the Aztecs and Mayans considered this gift the “food of the gods”
Preparations for cacao to be made into chocolate
The Theobroma cacao trees are to be found in the Orinoco and Amazon River basins in South America, having been distributed widely from SE Mexico to the Amazon River. These trees love humid and hot areas near the equator regions. The fruit is about the same size as the papaya fruit, producing bumpy type berries that are full of seeds, about 50 to a berry, which is covered in a white pulp.
The berries are hand harvested because using machines could easily injure the trees. The pods are removed from the trees — they are orange when ripe. If you want to open one, you open it with a machete. The seeds are then placed in big fermentation type trays which are kept covered with leaves from the banana tree.
They lie there for anything from 2–7 days, fermenting and producing the flavor and aroma that the world has come to love so much. The fermentation process destroys the embryo of the seed so that no unwanted germination occurs. The white pulp also falls away from the seeds.
It’s fine chocolate
When the fermentation process is over, the beans are left to dry out in the sun where workers will turn them a few times in a day. This will go on for about 3–5 days so that the drying process is fully completed. Some people try and make the beans dry faster by placing them in rotation dryers, but nature knows best and the beans that are dried in the sun apparently taste the best.
Then the beans get transported to the chocolate factory where they get cleaned from any debris; then moved on to be roasted in big ovens that rotate. This roasting is what will draw out the chocolate flavors. The roasted beans are then placed in a winnowing machine. This machine cracks the beans, removing the hulls.
What’s left is called the nib and it’s these nibs that become delicious chocolate. The nibs are then ground down by quite a few rollers, resulting in a thick paste. Cacao paste and the powder is ideal for diet snacking and raw vegan desserts etc. with all their natural fiber — it’s because all the nutrients are still intact in the whole bean.
The semi-solid or solid forms of pure cocoa are known as chocolate liquor but it does not contain any alcohol — the alcoholic chocolate liqueur does. Chocolate liquor and chocolate liqueur are quite different, actually. The real chocolate liquor is where unsweetened baking chocolate actually comes from.
It is at this stage that the chocolate type will be determined. The Fine Chocolate Industry Association, or FCIA, says that ‘fine chocolate’ is chocolate that only has cacao liquor, sugar, optional cacao butter, lecithin, optional vanilla and milk solids and fats. Later on, extra flavor or nuts get added. ‘Fine chocolate’ consists of 3 categories. These are:
- Dark chocolate (consisting of cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, sugar, vanilla, and lecithin)
- Milk chocolate (consisting of the above, but also milk solids and milk fats)
- White chocolate (consisting of everything the milk chocolate has in it except the chocolate liquor)
Real chocolatiers continue to debate whether the white chocolate should really be considered as chocolate. But in 2002, it was considered a confectionary, not a chocolate, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. This is because white chocolate contains no chocolate liquor.
The FDA also recognizes grades in the 3 different chocolate types and this is determined by the ingredients, the amount of cocoa and where the beans come from; also how they are prepared.
That means there is also a difference between cacao and cocoa
- We have to admit that cacao is very good for you and so is cocoa. However, if you are looking for the extra nutrients, then you will find cacao at the top of its game. Cacao supplies monounsaturated fats, cholesterol-free saturated fats, minerals, vitamins, natural proteins, carbohydrates, and protein. It is believed that spelling cacao as cocoa was actually a mistake, so technically speaking, they are pretty much the same. But when we do talk of cocoa today, we are more talking of the processed chocolate product that has added sugars in it compared to the real raw cacao, which contains no sugar — that in itself should make it the better choice.
- Cacao is simply a pure form of chocolate — it is raw, and it has not been processed as cocoa has and similarly the chocolate bars. Cacao is the one that contains heaps of magnesium and antioxidants.
- Cacao and that cup of delicious steaming cocoa that you might be used to drinking in front of a lovely fire someplace are not the same things. Cacao nibs and cocoa are different things. The two, cacao and cocoa will start from the same place, but the way they end up and the processes they go through along the way will have different effects on the nutritional benefits. It’s the whole processing that is the difference. Most studies which explore the links between chocolate and real health benefits are not talking about the chocolate you find at your local stores. They are focused on the real cacao beans themselves, in raw form. See the differences for yourself.
Cacao vs Cocoa — Cacao Health Benefits Video
Did you know that chocolate has health benefits?
The Theobroma cacao, or just cacao, is the real natural and original chocolate. The real organic cacao is what we are talking about here, the super-food, the one that contains special phytonutrients, which means it is packed with magnesium, sulfur, and phenylethylamine.
Cacao beans have rich supplies of copper, zinc, and phosphorus as well. Cacao nibs contain more antioxidants in them than you will get from wine, tea, goji berries and even blueberries. It’s those flavonoids in the cacao that takes it way beyond super-food status. And to benefit from these amazing health benefits, your cacao needs to be 100% pure and the purest way comes naturally from the beans themselves.
It’s the beans that have the least amounts of processing in them, and it’s the beans that end up after the husks have been removed as cacao nibs — after they have been roasted. Let’s look closely at the super health benefits of cacao:
- Nerve and muscle function is maintained
Because they are so rich in magnesium, Cacao beans look after your muscles and nerves. Magnesium keeps your heart rate steady and enhances the functioning of your nerves.
- Lose weight drinking cacao! Because it keeps you regular
Sounds unbelievable but it’s true. Even though cacao is considered high fat and high in calories when you eat pure cacao or cacao nibs, your body receives plenty of fiber, and that makes you feel fuller. Once again, you mustn’t get confused and think that the chocolate bars that you can find down at your grocer are the real thing. It’s not.
There is not much dietary fiber there. Just one ounce of cacao nibs will have 9 grams of fiber in it. It’s not a super-food for nothing, cacao.
- No more anemia
We all know how important iron is for good red blood cells production. 6% of what the recommended daily iron requirement is, is to be found in an ounce of cacao nibs. When you have a shortage of iron, you are tired, with malaise, but cacao can sort that out!
- Stroke and coronary disease reduced
Because cacao is full of phytonutrients, free radicals get absorbed which could have caused stroke and coronary disease. This is particularly the case when the cacao beans are eaten raw. Studies also prove cacao benefits on insulin resistance, blood pressure platelet and vascular function.
Findings from a study of more than 150,000 mostly male US veterans who didn’t have coronary artery disease at the beginning of the study — were suggested that eating an ounce of chocolate at minimum 5 times a week might help prevent coronary artery disease-related risks.
- Diarrhea treatment is reduced
Because cacao contains polyphenols, these inhibit particular intestinal secretions which are associated with diarrhea.
- Keeping you in a good mood!
It is the neurotransmitters in our brains which are responsible for telling your body how to behave. Cacao and cacao nibs can work very hard on your neurotransmitters because they stimulate the brain to release good neurotransmitters, such as euphoria to enhance good mood and emotions.
- Possibly prevent the development of atrial fibrillation
This is a kind of an irregular heartbeat that can cause heart failure or stroke and other things. Studies from Heart in 2017, found that adults who did eat chocolate just once a month had 10- 0% lower chances of developing atrial fibrillation than those who hardly ever touched chocolate.
- Cacao has more calcium than your glass of milk
- Contains 40 Times the Antioxidants of Blueberries
- Highest Plant-Based Source of Iron.
- Full of Magnesium for a Healthy Heart & Brain.
Real organic cacao has a lot more calcium in it than milk does coming from a cow. For instance, 100 g of cacao contains 160 mg of calcium against 100 ml of milk with 125 mg of calcium.
Looking a bit at cocoa
- Cocoa is the cacao that has been heated, and that you know from buying at your store. When things are heated over 104 degrees F, they start losing their nutritional value and can’t really be classified as raw food anymore. Normal chocolate and cocoa powder has undergone chemical processes as well as being roasted. This destroys much of the flavones and the antioxidants. Studies show that between 60–90% of original antioxidants in cacao get lost through a process called “Dutch processing”. This process was developed back in the 19th Century so as to darken the color, take some of the bitterness away and create a nice and mellow flavor to the chocolate. But unfortunately, this took away from the goodness. The non-organic chocolates and cocoas also are contaminated so to speak by horrible fumigation chemicals and pesticides that lace them, and might even contain GMOs or genetically modified products.
- Even though cocoa may seem inferior to real, raw cacao, there is still some nutritional benefits to be gained from cocoa if you choose varieties that come without extras added such as milk fats and sugar, even oils. It’s also not as expensive. And yes, cocoa is also produced in a similar fashion to cacao except that the cocoa undergoes the high heat temperatures. Fortunately cocoa does still retain some of the health benefits such as protecting your heart, your skin, blood pressure and stress. But be careful when buying your cocoa; look closely at what the ingredients say. Buy the plain cocoa powder rather than the mixes that are available and which are likely to contain sugar.
- Many people say you must eat foods in moderation and this is true when it comes to chocolate. Chocolate is at its healthiest when eaten in moderation. This is because the fats and sugars that do get added to chocolate are very high in calories and this can certainly lead to your gaining weight. Those protective areas that chocolate covers in the health arena might also just be mitigated when you overeat chocolate.
Chocolate producing countries are under threat
The production of chocolate today is threatened by the modern world and the big threat of climate change. The prime cacao producing countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, and Ghana, are set to experience 2.1 degree Celsius or 3.7 degrees Fahrenheit increases in temperature by the year 2050 and worse, the rainfall is also set not to rise along with those temperatures.
This will cause lower humidity levels and therefore the production of cacao will drop off. It is estimated from reports that 89% of the over 250 chocolate-producing areas would be unsuitable by 2050. Of course, there are scientists and farmers trying to develop strategies so that the chocolate production can be maintained. We will have to wait with bated breath to see what happens!
The uses for organic cacao
- First, you can brew a lovely cup of your own chocolate milk, just simply by adding 1 tablespoon of raw cacao powder to your cup, pouring in some warm plant-based milk and adding something nice, natural and sweet to it such as maple syrup. There are some studies that show that milk or any dairy products in cacao will block antioxidants and calcium being absorbed, so rather stay with the plant-based milk.
- Make a smoothie by adding in 1 or 2 tablespoons of raw cacao to your normal smoothie, sprinkling with raw cacao nibs for something crunchy and delicious.
- Eat it raw, real organic chocolate, just like it is, breaking it into squares and eating it with some delicious nuts or dried fruit.
- Make yourself a real brownie from real cacao. Try out some of these delectable ideas.
Remember cacao that has been naturally fermented is a completely different thing altogether from the processed chocolate bars that you will see sold in your stores. The processed chocolates are made from cocoa that has been roasted, with added milk, sugar and other ingredients that will turn it into the processed sweets found in the shops.
It is true, processed chocolate certainly is able to deliver when it comes to deliciousness, but the real true organic benefits from cacao are only found in the true raw form. Real raw cacao loses its bitterness through the fermentation process which also preserves antioxidants — choose the naturally fermented cacao beans in raw form.
It is actually quite remarkable to think that today, there is no drug on the market that can protect your heart like raw cacao can do. Findings from the nutrition department at the University of California reveal that raw organic cacao has the ability to thin your blood and prevent blood clots — that in fact, it has the same benefits, if not better, as taking your daily aspirin.
Not only that, it can even prevent premature aging because it contains polyphenol antioxidants, similar to red wine and green tea can offer, thereby protecting your cells from becoming prematurely oxidized or destroyed.
It makes perfect sense that cacao can:
- restore the internal balance of your system and rest your metabolism
- prevent sunburn
- improved skin texture
- prevent cancer
- help your teeth from decay
- prevent coughing
- prevent Alzheimer’s
- improve digestion
The health benefits of Cacao make it your ‘natural doctor’, providing some remarkable health benefits.