The Cacao bean or the raw cacao powder that comes from the bean is traditionally named after ‘the food of the gods.” In the modern day, it is considered a ‘superfood’ due to the high density of essential nutrients, very few side effects and proven health benefits. Raw cacao comes in many forms: whole cacao beans, cacao nibs, cacao powder, and cacao butter.
Cacao – the good stuff
Cacao has the highest antioxidant level of any food on the planet, can you believe it! The levels of antioxidants in raw cacao are higher than that of green tea and red wine. Even more so, Cacao is considered a ‘super-antioxidant’ because it has such a high ORAC score (a measure of antioxidant amounts) which helps protect the heart, prevent cellular damage, and keeps us looking and feeling younger on the inside and the outside!
Cacao has significant amounts of the minerals magnesium, iron, manganese, chromium, zinc, potassium and contains oleic acid which is a heart-healthy essential monounsaturated fat. Not to mention that cacao powder contains a good dose of fibre and a whole hose of B vitamins and Vitamin E for healthy skin.
Theobromine is a slightly bitter alkaloid of the cacao bean, a mild, non-addictive stimulant that has been found to help treat depression. Theobromine can also improve mental and physical well-being by stimulating central nervous system, dilating blood vessels, increasing energy levels and relaxing tense muscles.
Cacao makes us feel good
Cacao also contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is a precursor to both serotonin and melatonin. These chemicals do all sorts of wonderful things like create feelings of happiness, regulate appetite, promote relaxation and help us to get a good night’s sleep. It makes you feel good because cacao stimulates the release of endorphins which means happy but calm feelings, the best balance.
It’s all about the magnesium
Cacao may also be the highest source of Magnesium. We know this as the mineral that helps us relax right from a cellular level up. Magnesium fights acid buildup, neutralizes toxins, calms sensitivity to pain, quiets nerves, builds strong bones and teeth and is essential for many other functions.
Attention PMS (Pre-menstrual Syndrome) sufferers: the raw cocoa bean brings you great news. As most women already know, a craving for chocolate is a common symptom around the time of menstruation due to a magnesium deficiency. Not many of us are looking in the fridge for a bucket of spinach to up our magnesium levels, but many of us will instinctively devour a chocolate bar. And know you know why!
I should note however, that although rare, some people don’t fare so well with chocolate or raw cacao products. Polyphenols and other active substances found in them could trigger side effects like migraines and other allergic reactions. I had a problem with ‘puberty migraines’ when I was 14, and chocolate was sadly a big trigger for them. They only lasted for a year or so while my hormones sorted themselves out.
What about raw chocolate?
The cacao we are talking about here is the raw, unprocessed kind as most of the vital nutrients and health benefits are destroyed when they are processed into chocolate or to make processed cocoa powder. Sadly for those chocolate lovers out there, the nutrients from cacao are also destroyed when they undergo heating process and combined with milk and sugar to make chocolate.
But never fear there is much to be done with raw cacao powder!
- add to smoothies – so many options but this is a great one!
- chocolate mousse – it’s amazing!
- simple almond/rice/cow/soy milk with cacao powder – just like Milo but better!
- add to baked goods – cookies, muffins, muesli bars, cakes, desserts
- freeze cacao smoothies into pops for frozen summer treats – yum!
- make some bliss balls
- Sarah Wilson’s Raspberry Ripple – it’s like a Cherry Ripe but better!
- chocolate fudge bites
- chocolate berry mousse – I Quit Sugar style
- chocolate nut butter cups – WOW!!!
- I have even seen a recipe that uses chocolate in a slow cooked beef stew!
So enjoy your Cacao Powder knowing that it truly is a superfood but remember unprocessed and unheated Raw Cacao Powder is the real deal. What’s your favourite chocolate indulgence? Let me know in the comments below – I would love to hear all about it!