what is ceremonial cacao?
WHAT IS "CEREMONIAL-GRADE CACAO"?
"Ceremonial-grade cacao" is a term used to describe a particular quality of cacao "paste" or cacao "licor"/"liquor", actually a solid form of crushed cacao seeds which can be prepared with different ingredients to create a ceremonial beverage for ritual purposes.
When we talk about "cacao" we're talking about products made from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. These seeds grow in pods on the trunk of the tree (these fruit pods start life as flowers). The pods are filled with a sweet white pulp and purplish brown seeds - often called beans though technically they are seeds or nuts...In the early stages of processing, the seeds are separated from the pulp and dried in the sun - as they dry, some fermentation occurs (this brings out the chocolatety flavour). They are hand-shelled to remove the papery skins, and then ground down & crushed into a liquid paste either by hand, the traditional way, or by machine. This then rehardens into a solid mass of cacao, containing both the cocoa solids and the butter. This is the cacao paste / licor, used to prepare ceremonial cacao drinks.
"Ceremonial grade" cacao is basically cacao in its form of "cacao paste/licor" (as opposed to more processed forms of cacao in which the cacao butter has been separated from the solids)... But there's more to it than that really; for me, to consider the cacao paste "ceremonial grade", and to work with it in sacred rituals, it must also be ethically sourced in a range of ways: there is nothing sacred about exploitation and harming of humans and other creatures, plants, land or waters.; and the variety of cacao is also a factor for me, personally.
I work with cacao paste which is:
- organically cultivated: so that no humans, other creatures, people, plants, land or waters are harmed.
- ethically cultivated and harvested/farmed - fairly traded, with no slave labour (there's a terrible irony in the fact that child slavery is a particular issue in the global chocolate industry)
- cultivated/harvested by and financially profiting indigenous peoples directly. Buying ceremonial cacao grown by indigenous communities in the Amazon, for example, is a way to support an ethical, sustainable industry, rather than the cocaine, oil or logging industries many are forced to work for in order to survive.
- Criollo variety: Criollo is not only the tastiest, least bitter & most chocolatey, but also the variety which was historically used in ritual practices. These days it's the rarest of the main 3 - most commercial chocolate is made from the Trinitario hybrid variety - a cross between Criollo and the more bitter Forastero varieties.) In ancient times, Criollo was prevalent in Mesoamerica; these days however, most Criollo cacao trees grow in the Amazon / South America. Arriba Nacional is another good (& delicious) variety of South American cacao which can be used for ceremonial purposes.
ETHICAL CACAO WHICH SUPPORTS INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
I source my ceremonial-grade heirloom Criollo cacao from Forever Cacao, a small, ethical company in Wales who buy direct from the Ashaninka indigenous communities in the Rio Ene region of the Amazon in Peru. This family-business was the first to ship ceremonial cacao to Europe; you can learn more about their work here. This was the first cacao I ever consumed in ceremony; it's also the cacao I was initiated with during my apprenticeship training and, having tried a few others varieties along the way, it remains my favourite - I continue to commune with this Ashaninka cacao every day.
Buying ceremonial cacao grown by indigenous communities in the Amazon is a way to support an ethical, sustainable industry, rather than the cocaine, oil or logging industries many are forced to work for in order to survive.
Curious to learn more about cacao & ceremonies?