It may be news to you that cacao–the plant that produces the beloved confection known as chocolate– is a powerful superfood, but it’s true. When cacao goes through minimal processing and a short fermentation, its naturally nutritious compounds are preserved and used in ceremonies to help the mind, body, and spirit meet their full potential. Some of the benefits of ceremonial grade cacao include:
-increased consciousness and clarity
-increased physical endurance/strength
Cacao can give the boost of energy and alertness people look for in coffee without the inevitable crash that comes later. This boost can enhance focus and concentration, provide mental clarity, and enable creativity and self-expression.
A Brief History of Cacao
The Cacao Tree’s origin has been traced to ancient South America in the upper Amazon region. It spread through South and Central America and the Caribbean region through trade and migration. It originated as an Aztec and Mayan crop dating back several thousand years.
Cacao was so valuable in these ancient kingdoms, it was often used as currency and as a reward or payment for services. Its superfood properties were recognized as gifts from the gods in ancient religious ceremonies where cacao was ingested as a hot beverage.
The word chocolate comes from the ancient Nahuatl words “chocolatl” (meaning hot water) and “cacahuatl” (meaning ceremonial drink).
After several centuries of use, Spanish conquistadors were introduced to ceremonial cacao by native leaders. They added sugars and spices to the cacao and the drink became wildly popular in Spain as conquistadors returned to report on their journeys. The Spanish kept cacao to themselves for about 100 years, when it began to spread in popularity around western Europe. Cacao, or “hot cocoa,” was still rare, so drinking it was an exclusive privilege for the wealthy and powerful.
The Industrial Revolution destroyed the exclusivity of cacao by introducing machines that sped up harvesting and processing cacao, which in turn made it much more affordable and accessible. In 1850, Joseph Fry added cacao butter back into cocoa powder forming a solid mass that was easier to ship and to flavor. In 1910, Jean Neuhaus II created delicious filled sweetened chocolate confections called “pralines,” and chocolate as we know it was born.
Today more than 4.5 million tons of cacao beans are consumed annually. The huge cacao industry is striving to find ways of sustainable farming combined with ethical harvesting and processing so the world can continue to enjoy all the delights of the cacao tree (worldcocoafoundation.org).
Nutritional Benefits of Cacao
The beneficial components of cacao include:
Theobromine- cardiovascular stimulant, vasodilator (relaxes blood vessels and improves flow), providing more energy and focus with smoother blood flow to the brain.
Magnesium- essential to hundreds of reactions in the body, aids in the absorption of minerals for stronger bones, metabolism, and heart.
Antioxidants- protect cells from free radicals and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Flavonols- relax blood vessels, decrease blood pressure.
Potassium- lowers blood pressure, balances fluid levels, promotes healthy heart and nerve function.
Phylathelynamine (PEA)- often called “the love chemical,” PEA increases dopamine in the brain
Anandamide- often called “the bliss molecule,” creates effects similar to endorphins, cannabinoid, creates feelings of well-being and satisfaction.
These compounds work together to create a general sense of well-being, remove energetic blockages and allow for deeper connection and focus.
What’s the Difference Between Cocoa and Cacao?
Though processing varies from product to product, the main difference between the cocoa powder you’re used to and ceremonial grade cacao is mainly processing. Ceremonial grade cacao undergoes minimal processing, from start to finish. Cacao grows as a fruit from the bark of the Cacao tree. It grows as a pod about the size and shape of an American football. The pod contains 20-60 cacao seeds (beans), covered in a thick milky pulp.
-FERMENTATION: The seeds and pulp are traditionally fermented between 36-72 hours, and the pulp drains off the beans. Ceremonial grade cacao uses a short fermentation time, while other manufacturers might require 3 days or more, depending on the end product or recipe.
-DRYING: Again, drying times vary, but traditional processing involves about a week of drying beans in the sun.
-ROASTING: Dry beans are then roasted to perfection, depending on the end product or recipe. Ceremonial grade cacao is roasted over a fire by native “tostadoras,” who know how to identify a perfect minimal roast.
-PEELING & CLEAN: The hull of the bean is then separated from the flesh, called cacao nibs. Nibs are checked for quality and packaged for milling.
-MILLING: Cacao nibs are ground into a cacao liquor, which is a thick paste. At this point, the paste can be packaged for ceremonial use, usually mixed into a hot beverage.
-FURTHER PROCESSING: Chocolate manufacturers continue to process milled cacao paste, sometimes alkalizing the paste (dutch process) for a less bitter taste, and separating the cocoa butter from the powder through further pressing and milling. Because ceremonial cacao does not undergo further processing, it retains more of the powerful natural compounds that make it a superfood.
Awake Healer sources traditional, minimally-processed, ceremonial grade cacao from South America for our customers. We bring you a clean morning energy boost without the crash of coffee, and a superfood to help you maximize your creativity and productivity naturally, anytime.