CACAO AS A SUPERFOOD...
CACAO: FOOD FOR THE BODY AS WELL AS SPIRIT!
Cacao is essentially the most pure, raw form of chocolate, and comes from the seeds of a tree which is indigenous to South and Central America. The cacao tree produces large, colourful pods containing fleshy pulp and large seeds, commonly known as cacao beans because of their size, though they are really a seed or nut, and they form the basis of chocolate. Like all seeds & nuts, the cacao bean is a combination of proteins & fat - when processed these are separated into cacao powder & cacao fat ie butter (the powder & fat are both called cocoa solids on your chocolate wrapper...)
What's the difference between cocoa and cacao?
Cocoa is another name given to cacao, and tends to be used in English, and also to refer to more processed/fermented/heat-treated forms of cacao.)
Cacao is also, in its raw state, a heart-opening plant medicine, first grown in the upper Amazon of South America 5000 years ago, later used in spiritual rituals by ancient shamans in Central America, where the plant was fully domesticated 3600 years ago. Outside of its sacred ceremonial use, cacao is also one of the true superfoods, packed with nutrients; it's food for body & soul.
Cacao seeds (often called beans) are found inside the pulpy flesh of cacao pods, which grow on the cacao tree. These seeds are what becomes cacao medicine/chocolate in her many forms...
THEOBROMA CACAO: FOOD OF THE GODS
The Maya knew about cacao's curative properties; but, as with the ceremonial value of this plant, the nutritional power was unknown in the west for a long time, perhaps because until very recently, in most of the world, cacao was only consumed in its most processed form, after being fermented & heated, which destroys most of its nutrients, and then heavily processed. (In case you're wondering, the difference between chocolate & cocoa & cacao is: commercial chocolate is made using beans which have been fermented, roasted to 99-104 degrees Celcius, mixed with sugar, milk & cheap fats; and cocoa powder is made from beans which have been fermented & then roasted to 116-121 degrees Celcius...And raw cacao has been neither fermented nor roasted, and so retains its many nutrients...)
In the 1990s scientists began to research cacao's nutritional value & realised what the ancient Mesoamericans knew all along: it was a very special food indeed...These days, besides being honoured as a sacred plant spirit, cacao is recognised as the greatest superfood, highly rich in a variety of nutrients: in fact it's one of the most complex foods, as long as you consume the raw rather than heated & fermented form.
Cacao has the highest levels of antioxidants of any food - more than blueberry, acai, pomegranate, goji & red wine combined; it also has high levels of magnesium (great for supporting organs such as the heart, brain & muscles which need lots of energy; magnesium helps relax muscles & is essential for nerve & muscle function (so a great complement to your yoga practice!), improves blood circulation & gut peristalsis so it's great for digestion & elimination. Cacao is also rich in iron, manganese, & copper - all essential for healthy blood formation - and chromium, which helps balance blood sugar. It's also great for boosting your immune system with high levels of zinc & vitamin C.
Cacao also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which we make naturally when we're excited - & when we fall in love; it helps us stay focused & alert; it contains anandamide, the "bliss chemical", an endorphin produced after exercise; and tryptophan, a powerful mood-enhancing amino acid, essential for the production of serotonin (the "happy hormone" - so it can work as something of a natural antidepressant.
And...cacao contains caffeine and a unique compound, theobromine, a stimulant (gentler than caffeine) found predominantly in cacao; the combination of theobromine and caffeine is unique to cacao.
In a typical chocolate bar, you'll be eating a highly processed remnant of what was once cacao, after a lot of fermentation, heat-treatment, and processing to separate the cacao/cocoa solids from the fat (ie cocoa butter) - the brown solids are then mixed with cheaper fats, milk and lots of sugar...It's a very diluted form of what, in its pure, raw, unprocessed form is one of the most complex & nutritious foods on the planet. In nutritional terms, comparing ceremonial-grade cacao to commercial chocolate is like comparing delicious ripe organic oranges to a bottle of orange squash. Most commercial chocolate is far from ethical - in addition to the history of genocide and slavery which brought cacao and sugar to Europe, in modern times the chocolate industry is rife with child labour...There is also the environmental impact of non-organic farming methods...So, as with anything, if you want to consume truly good, wholesome, nourishing chocolate you will need to find an ethical, organic, fairly-traded source - fortunately, these days there are more and more small-scale, single origin, bean-to-bar producers and many indigenous communities around the world cultivating cacao and producing delicious chocolate...
Curious to learn more about cacao & my ceremonies?