Nestled among the trees of steamy equatorial forests across the world, the cacao tree can be found sprouting leathery, seemingly useless pods. However, inside these red or brown football-shaped pods are precious cacao beans full of flavonoids and antioxidants!
Cacao, not to be confused with cocoa, refers to the tree and unfermented bean. Basically it is the very first stage of chocolate making, raw with all enzymes and antioxidants intact.
So, what are the benefits of this wondrous cacao?
Here are a couple of interesting points…
- Cacao is chock-full of therapeutic benefits and could easily be considered one of nature’s best medicines.
- Cacao is considered a ‘super-antioxidant’ because it has such a high ORAC score (a measure of antioxidant amounts).
- The unprocessed raw cacao bean earns a higher ORAC score than acai berries, spinach or blueberries.
- The high antioxidant activity helps protect the heart, prevent cellular damage, and keeps us looking – and feeling – younger (bonus!).
- The super bean contains oleic acid, which has been linked to lower cholesterol.
- Cacao is also a great source of magnesium, which helps with calcium absorption, metabolism, and protein synthesis. It may also be useful in the prevention of or treatment for congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, and premenstrual syndrome.
- Cacao also contains iron, copper, calcium, potassium, and zinc.
Some fun cacao facts:
Cacao dates back worlds away with the Mayans and Aztecs using cacao both as food and as a system of currency, a super food and a system of trade – pretty neat for a little bean! These indigenous groups who, despite poverty and unsanitary living conditions, have the lowest rate of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in the world. It’s no coincidence. Cacao had to be involved!
Consuming cacao in the form of dark chocolate is the heart-healthiest way to go; adding milk to chocolate considerably diminishes the health benefits of cacao. The darker the chocolate: the higher the antioxidant levels. Cacao contains high bioflavonoid levels that may facilitate healthy blood flow and blood pressure levels. Eating foods with a high percentage of cacao may help prevent the clogging of arteries, thereby reducing risk of stroke, blood clots, and heart attacks.
So, how do I consume cacao? Here are some recipes we have created using cacao:
- Dark chocolate Bark
- Red kidney Bean Cake
- Walnut & Cacao Brownie
- Chocolate Truffles
- Bec’s Chocolate Mousse
Mood boosting food:
Curious as to why you feel a pleasant boost after snacking on dark chocolate? Cacao contains the amino acid tryptophan, which leads to the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of joy and may help prevent mild depression. The small levels of caffeine found in chocolate may influence our mental state by keeping us focused and alert. More on mood boosting foods here.
So, now you know all the benefits – how do you incorporate cacao into your diet? You can choose one of three glorious forms:
- Cacao powder: which can be added to smoothies, bliss balls and desserts
- Cacao beans: which can be eaten on their own for a quick and convenient energy boost!
- Cacao nibs: which can be added to your morning yogurt (for extra crunch), desserts, granola, and salads, sprinkled on
If you are wanting to try out this complete superfood, try this recipe. It will surely put a new spin on your usual salad.