Cacao beans are the seeds from an Amazonian fruiting tree and is the source of all chocolate and cocoa products. Raw cacao powder is a natural superfood which is high in nutrients such as iron, magnesium and zinc. It is also a rich source of antioxidants for our heart and contains neurotransmitters which contribute to wellbeing and happiness.
Cacao and cocoa are derived from the same tree, but it is the processing which sets these two products apart. Cocoa is processed using the “Dutch processing” method which involves chemically processing and roasting the beans. This processing technique was developed in the early 19th century to reduce the characteristic bitter flavour and darken the colour. A recent study suggested that between 60 to 90% of the original antioxidants are lost through “Dutch processing”. Raw cacao on the other hand isn’t submitted to temperatures over 42°C which helps to retain the nutritional content. It is usually purchased as a powder or as raw cacao nibs.
Other kinds of cacao products available for purchase are organic and fair-trade varieties.
Organic cacao products avoid the use of chemicals during the growing and processing phase of production. It’s possible that non-organic varieties use toxic pesticides, fumigation chemicals and genetically modified ingredients.
Oxfam estimates that over 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown by indigenous communities in very poor working conditions for minimum wage. By purchasing a fair-trade product you are making a difference to the lives of cocoa farmers and their workers.
Raw cacao retains high levels of flavonoids, which have been shown to boost heart health by reducing cholesterol levels, insulin resistance and blood pressure.
Flavonoids are a kind of antioxidant which protect the body from ageing and disease.
In fact, raw cacao contains up to four times the antioxidants of traditional cacao powder—making it a food with the highest antioxidant value. It has a whopping 95,000 ORAC value score per 100gms.
If you’re looking to get more magnesium and iron in your diet—look no further. Cacao is the richest food source of both these nutrients. Magnesium is important to relieve muscle tension and anxiety—a reason why women crave chocolate every month! The cacao bean is also a good source of protein, potassium, essential fatty acids, calcium, chromium, zinc and sulphur.
The common myth that chocolate causes or contributes to acne has been reviewed in recent years. In fact, it has been established that possibly the dairy and sugar component of chocolate is what contributes to breakouts not the cacao content. In dermatology, cacao has many benefits for our skin including improved circulation and hydration.
Chronic and acute inflammation underlies the molecular basis of many chronic diseases. Research has found that isolated flavanols and procyanidins fractions have been shown to attenuate the release of inflammatory cytokines and to promote the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-4 and interleukin-5. This explains why cacao is so beneficial for our heart and overall health.
The amino acid tryptophan is found naturally in cacao. It helps to enhance relaxation, boost mood and promotes better sleep. This effect has been attributed to the conversion of tryptophan from cocoa into serotonin and the presence of some compounds in cocoa that alleviate mood, thereby protecting against depression. Enhanced alertness and focus has also been associated with cacao consumption.
When purchasing raw cacao make sure the product states that it is raw, organic and fair trade. It is typically found as a fine powder, but the raw nibs are a great replacement for choc chips in baking.
Raw cacao powder can replace regular store-bought cocoa to use in cakes, biscuits, slices and muffins. If you wish to retain more of the antioxidants you can make raw foods and add cacao powder to protein balls, raw brownies, tarts and healthy mouses.
Add 1 Tbsp of raw cacao powder to a saucepan containing cow’s milk or any other milk alternative. Gently warm the milk and stir in the cacao powder. Avoid the milk reaching a high temperature as this will reduce the nutritional value.
For a cold chocolate milk use a shaker or blender with milk. If you require a sweetener you could add stevia, maple syrup, honey or coconut sugar.
Make a superfood smoothie by adding 1-2 Tbsp of raw cacao powder or nibs to your favourite recipe. Blend with strawberries, bananas or blueberries for an antioxidant boost.
Give your traditional breakfast cereal extra flavour and a nutritional boost by sprinkling raw cacao powder over the top. Add to corn flakes, puffed rice, porridge or a healthy muesli.
As people are becoming more aware of the health benefits of raw cacao there are lots of raw organic chocolate bars available on the market. Break into small serves, eat with raw nuts, berries and an herbal tea as a mid-afternoon treat.
Raw cacao powder can cause sensitivities in some people—especially those who experience migraines and are sensitive to salicylates, histamine and caffeine.