Let me begin by saying that cacao has changed my life.
I was introduced to the use of chocolate as medicine over three years ago and since then, have been exploring and learning with the plant in her many forms, which has evolved into a deeply transforming partnership practice that I share with my husband every morning.
The idea that cacao — most commonly thought of as a regular chocolate bar or a hip, exotic superfood— is a medicine for spiritual purposes can be a new concept for some. Most people I speak to about Ceremonial Cacao are intrigued and drawn to the idea, but are unsure about the difference between the raw cacao powder found at your local health food store and “ceremonial-grade” paste…
I thought I’d share my understanding here, hopefully providing some new information and the motivation to go out and discover it for yourself!
First, let’s break down the difference between Cocoa (pronounced “koko”) and Cacao (pronounced “kakaow”), because I see the two often mixed up. They might be spelled similarly, but they’re not the same in quality, so you almost always want to go with cacao.
Cocoa powder has been roasted for long periods of time at high temperatures, which changes the molecular structure of the bean, lowering its naturally abundant nutritional value.
Cacao powder (although it may be organic, “raw” and a “superfood”) is also highly processed to commercial standards, removing the bean’s natural fat (cacao butter). This means that many living enzymes, healthy fat and most of the subtle energetic properties of cacao have been destroyed.
This isn’t so much an issue if you’re looking for the flavor, focus and energy-boost the cacao bean offers, but as the powder has been separated from its natural fiber and fat, it can often be overstimulating for your delicate nervous system and quite taxing on your liver and digestive tract, much like coffee. You’ve probably heard of bullet-proof coffee, right? Well science has shown that consuming these plants (coffee and cacao, for example) with healthy, undamaged fat is much more beneficial for the body, assisting in the absorption of nutrients and gradual release the plants’ chemicals.
That being said, I do occasionally use the powder when I’m making a quick morning tonic with ginger, turmeric, medicinal mushrooms and spices, or in smoothies, bliss balls and raw desserts. I believe that cacao is precious in all its forms and is a beautiful way to connect with the essence of love daily. (Chocolate became a symbol of love and romance for a reason, because it emotionally, physiologically and psychically creates feelings of openness and pleasure within us!)
The most important thing to look for when purchasing powdered cacao is that it is ethically, sustainably and accountably grown, harvested and processed. The chocolate industry can be a very dark place in particular parts of the world and it’s up to us to stop supporting brands that continue to conduct and condone harmful human exploitation. The Food Empowerment Project is a great resource and lists hundreds of companies that they Do and Do Not recommend. I most often buy this Navitas one from Wholefoods or Amazon.
Ceremonial Cacao Paste
Ceremonial-grade paste is made by fermenting and lightly toasting or sun-drying the beans, then peeling the husks (usually by hand) and stone-grinding them down to create a paste which is set into a block — nothing added, nothing removed. The bean’s fat remains intact, helping to balance its stimulating properties and facilitate absorption over a longer period of time.
This is cacao in its pure, traditional form, used by ancient mesoamerican civilizations for thousands of years in ceremony and celebration. I feel that by looking to the folk, indigenous wisdom of how the medicine has been made and used, we’re offered more direct access to something that’s wholly nourishing, for mind, body and spirit.
When we crave chocolate, what our bodies actually desire is the multidimensional, healing power of cacao’s medicine and the sacred self-love that is inherent when we take time to give ourselves real nourishment.
Our culture can be so action-oriented. Cacao reminds us to ask ourselves, when are we having our ceremonies? When are we taking the time to reconnect to our bodies and drop into our hearts? This is honoring the ceremony of life and remembering that we’re all made of the same stuff, interconnected in this cosmic soup. And cacao is just one of many, many tools available on this planet to experience connection and tune in to who we really are.
Some Ceremonial Cacao Sources:
I recently took some of the best ceremonial cacao brands on the market for a taste test and wrote about my findings. If you want more options, I suggest taking a look at that article!
Handmade by UK-based modern medicine woman, Jordan Cohayney, The Cacao Club offers a handful of different herb-infused ceremonial Cacao Discs that only need hot water added and a quick blend to make into a delicious and medicinal tonic.
My favorite blends are Pleasure + Intimacy, or Traditional Ceremony, but honestly they’re all heavenly!
The Cacao Club are generously offering 10% off when you use the code CACAOCOMMUNITY at checkout!
Created in 2017 by sister-brother duo, Florencia and Eric Fridman, Cacao Laboratory was conceived as a way to bridge the ancient traditions of cacao in a modern context.
Sourced directly from family farm-shares in Guatemala and Ecuador, they also hold ceremonies around the United States to help share the practice. They also offer small cacao bar blends inspired by the elements of Earth, Fire, Air + Water, which are great if you’re just getting into cacao and looking for something affordable. But if you’re serious about cacao like me, you’ll go for the 1kg block! I’ve always found their products to be super high quality and always create the perfect daily cacao tonic.
Lucky for us, they are giving readers a discount code for all online purchases. Use the code CACAOANGEL for 10% off your order.
A wonderful small producer in California sourcing sustainable, high-grade cacao beans from around the world!
I love their diverse offerings and flavors, with medicinal mushrooms and herbs mixed into some of their products. Plus, these chocolate-buttons melt easily on the stove or blended up with hot water.
My favorite blends are definitely the Tantric Rose and Medicinal Mushroom.
Soul Lift is a US-based distributor of ceremonial cacao.
A couple of years ago while we were visiting Lake Atitlan in Guatemala (arguably, the hub of ceremonial cacao) we were lucky to find handmade cacao by an incredible women’s cooperative called Ruk’u’x Ulew (pronounced “Roo-koosh-oo-lay-oo”), which means Heart of the Earth. My friend calls this the “Grandmother Cacao” — needless to say, it’s very special.
Right now, this grandmother cacao and other rare varieties are available through supportive distributors like Soul Lift! Check out all the intel on their website.
So which is better? Powder or Paste?
It all depends on what experience you’re looking for.
I believe that it has everything to do with the individual. The most important part of cultivating a relationship with cacao, and any plant for that matter, is a process of experimentation — respectfully and playfully exploring its different forms, as well as the various states of mind and place that you’re experiencing the medicine.
Maybe that’s sitting and drinking a ceremonial dose three mornings consecutively and working with it for deepening your meditation practice. Maybe other times, it’s making homemade chocolate with coconut oil and maple syrup. Or perhaps, it’s simply mixing the powder into your morning banana smoothie and really enjoying the richness of flavor and energy that way. If you’re looking for some ways to create a daily practice with your cacao, check out my article exploring cacao recipes and rituals.
Ultimately, cacao is a partner, a tool for us to come together with intention, to share in gratitude and be present with our hearts. I’ve come to realize that any experiences we may have when we drink it are always alive within us, and once you’ve connected with that place, you can journey there and receive her medicine and messages, whenever and wherever you are.