What is cacao?
Cacao was originally used by the Azteks and the Mayas during their spiritual rituals, but was later introduced by the Spanish into Europe. Since then, it has mainly been used to make chocolate. Sadly, chocolate (in general) is not very healthy, because it contains too many added sugars and fats. By contrast, raw cacao is a super-healthy, super-delicious and carefree treat, packed full with anti-oxidants.
What is cacao?
Cacao is made from the beans of the Theobroma cacao, a tree that grows on fertile ground in the forests of South and Central America. This large area is home to the three most important tree species from which cacao is derived: Criollo, Forastero (including the Arriba variety) and Trinitario. The cacao powder is extracted from fermented and sun-dried beans through a traditional process of cold pressing.
What is the difference between cacao and raw cacao?
The cacao powder that you can find in the supermarket is processed in a way that results in many of its active components and nutrients being lost. In addition, it often also contains calorie-rich additives and only a very small percentage of cacao. Raw cacao is cacao in which all the essential nutrients are still present. To make this possible, it is important that the beans are not heated to a temperature higher than 42°C. Raw also means that the beans are not processed. Instead, the cacao powder is extracted by the cold pressing of fermented and sun-dried beans. In this way, the cacao retains all its healthy phytonutrients and anti-oxidants. This traditional method of production makes use of ripe cacao pods, harvested by hand. The beans in these pods are extracted and fermented for a week, during which time they are constantly stirred (to ensure that the temperature does not get too high). This fermentation process ensures the development of the complex flavour and typical characteristics for which cacao is famous. After fermentation, the beans are dried at a controlled temperature, before being ground to an ultrafine paste. This is then sifted to produce two residual products: cacao butter and cacao cake. It is the cacao cake that is then further refined to produce cacao powder.
What are the benefits of raw cacao?
- Cacao, an anti-oxidant boost: Cacao has a powerful and natural anti-oxidative effect, thanks to the presence of large quantities of polyphenols. However, this quantity can decrease significantly, depending on the method that is used to process the cacao. It is only raw cacao that can guarantee the retention of the maximum level of polyphenols.
- Addicted to chocolate: Some people have a true passion for chocolate, which is hardly surprising in view of the mild euphoric sensation that cacao can give. This is thought to be produced by its ability to stimulate the transport of tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps to reduce anxiety, because it is a precursor of the important neurotransmitter* serotonin, a shortage of which can lead to depression. In addition, cacao also contains endogenous amphetamine phenylethylamine, which in chemical terms strongly resembles the neurotransmitters adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin, all of which can have a powerful influence on our mood.
- Cacao improves alertness: This is the result of the further presence of methylxanthines like caffeine and theobromine in cacao. Theobromine is a derivative of caffeine and has similar properties that stimulate alertness.
- A healthy alternative for cacao drinks: Raw cacao powder is a healthy alternative for the more well-known cacao drinks – or should that be fantasy cacao drinks? In fact, these drinks contain very little cacao, but do have large amounts of sugar (up to 75 %!) and added vitamins. Raw cacao powder also naturally contains numerous vitamins and minerals, but it requires hardly any sweetening. If, however, you want to make it just a little bit sweeter, you can do this by using coconut blossom sugar or stevia.
- A source of magnesium: Cacao is rich in magnesium, an essential mineral that is necessary for many important bodily functions. This includes the transmission of stimuli in muscles and nerves, which helps the muscles to stretch and contract, thereby enhancing their performance. Magnesium also combats tiredness by supporting the processes of the energy metabolism.
Recipes with raw cacao
Pure and raw cacao powder is a true superfood. It is packed full with anti-oxidants that protect the body’s cells against harmful free radicals. In addition, it also has a beneficial effect on mood and levels of alertness, as well as being a natural source of magnesium, so that it provides the body with extra energy.