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Cacao: Food of the Gods!

03‐02‐15

Cacao. What exactly is it? Why is it good for you? How do to use it?

Cacao is a much misunderstood superfood, and the questions don’t stop there….

What is the difference between organic raw cacao and cocoa? Where does chocolate fit into all of this? Is chocolate healthy? Confused? Well read on for all the answers!

What is Cacao?


raw cacao and chocolateCacao refers to the bean-like seeds of a small evergreen tree native to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. Theobroma cacao, literally meaning ‘food of the gods’ is the scientific name of this food that was prized by the Mayan and Aztec civilisations.

Cacao seeds can be processed to form various cacao by-products that you will see in organic and wholefood stores. Products such as cacao nibs, cacao butter, cacao powder and cacao liquor. The processes used to turn the cacao bean into all of these products, typically included fermentation, drying, grinding, roasting and pressing. So what are each of these different cacao products?

• Cacao nibs – the cacao beans are dried and fermented, then broken up into small pieces, or nibs, to give us cacao nibs. These nibs do not have a typical chocolate flavour. They tend to have a bitter, almost coffee like flavour.

• Cacao liquor – dried and fermented cacao beans are ground slowly to form a paste that hardens at room temperature. This is cacao liquor, or cacao mass that is the key ingredient in chocolate. When chocolate makers refer to the cacao or cocoa content, it is the content of cacao liquor that they are referring to. 

• Cacao butter and cacao powder – cacao liquor is pressed under pressure to separate the fats (cacao butter) from the remaining dry solids (cacao powder).

In marketing terms, the word ‘cacao’ is often used to distinguish raw, organic cacao products from the more processed cocoa products. In particular, cocoa will usually be roasted to around 150°C, a process used for regular chocolate in order to develop the typical chocolate flavour. For a product to be raw, it should never be heated above 48°C. Heating above this temperature destroys many of the natural enzymes in the food, meaning it loses much of its nutritional value.

Is Chocolate Healthy?


The health giving qualities of raw cacao are many and varied. Cacao beans contain natural chemicals called flavonoids, a type of antioxidant compound that promotes general health and might lower your risk of several diseases. It is regarded as one of the highest anti-oxidant containing foods in existence.

woman eating chocolateAntioxidants stabilize and ultimately destroy free radicals in your cells and tissues. Free radicals can injure your cells by interfering with cell membranes, damaging DNA and altering other cell components. Over time, a buildup of free radicals can accelerate aging, contribute to vascular changes that lead to heart disease and raise your risk of developing cancer. In addition to removing free radicals, antioxidants also help decrease inflammation that can contribute to arthritis and other diseases.

Raw cacao is packed full of minerals such as magnesium (good for your bones and a muscle relaxant) and sulfur (helps form strong nails and hair). It is also the highest plant-based source of iron known to man.

Cacao is also a great source of four scientifically proven bliss chemicals - serotonin, dopamine, anandamide and phenylethylamine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for increasing mood and alertness, and can even alleviate depression. A natural high that is healthy, delicious and legal!

This all sounds wonderful, but chocolate is not the same as raw cacao. Regular chocolate is a highly refined product with many processed ingredients, using heavily refined cocoa mass as a base, but also including condensed milk or milk powder, sugar and various emulsifiers and flavours. One of the most popular chocolate blocks in Australia contains around 57% sugars and around 19% saturated fats. Better chocolates have higher cacao contents and fewer additives, but often still have a large amount of added sugar. Dark chocolate, for example, is normally around 70% refined cocoa, with the remaining 30% typically being made up of milk powder and sugar.

To maximize the health benefits of eating cacao, you should look for raw cacao products with little or no added sugar. There are a number of raw chocolate products on the market now that are made with a few simple ingredients such as raw cacao, coconut oil and a sweetener such as agave syrup. Whilst the merits of agave syrup are debatable (we’re not fans), these chocolate products are miles ahead of your everyday milk chocolate. Better still, its oh so simple to make your own, see the recipes below.

So yes, chocolate can be good for you! YAY!!

Raw Cacao Recipes


You will find endless wonderful cacao recipes on the internet. Our family has a love affair with cacao, so we’ve tried lots of them! From raw cacao cheesecakes, to cacao-based smoothies, and of course bliss balls, we’ve got some fabulous recipes to share. We will be posting these over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for them.

 In the meantime, here’s a super simple raw chocolate recipe for you to try:

Ingredients


I cup raw cacao liquor. The liquor results in a nice creamy chocolate, but if you cannot find liquor, cacao powder works as well.
¼ cup coconut oil
¼ cup sweetener (maple syrup, rice malt syrup or honey)
¼ teaspoon vanilla bean powder
Pinch of sea salt (optional)

Method


Place a glass or metal bowl over hot water.
Add cacao liquor and coconut oil.
Stir this mixture as it slowly melts.
Once its melted, add the sweetener.
Blend together to make sure its completely mixed.
Pour into a mould.
Top with a sprinkle of your favourite fruit / nuts, such as goji berries, shredded coconut or chopped almonds.
Place into the freezer for 1-2 hours to set. Once set, keep in fridge.
Enjoy!

Keep an eye on this blog over the coming weeks for more delectable raw cacao recipes!

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