When was the last time someone told you to go eat some chocolate for your health? Of course, a chocolate bar loaded with sugar is probably not going to do much to improve your health, but in its more natural state, chocolate, also known as cacao, has enough health benefits to be classified as a superfood!
What is the Difference between Cacao and Cocoa?
Truth be told, both cacao and cocoa both come from the same thing. The scientific name for the cocoa tree is “Theobroma cacao L.” The cocoa tree is an evergreen found in tropical climates of Central America and Africa.
The fruit of the cocoa tree has been used for thousands of years. It has been a useful source of food and the beans have been valuable for bartering.
Cacao is the term that is usually used for a raw and unprocessed cocoa bean. Cocoa is the word generally used for a more processed form of the cocoa bean and is often accompanied by sugar. Cacao is usually more expensive. If you want to use cacao for its health properties, look for raw and organic cacao. You will find many forms of this to use in a variety of delicious ways.
Cacao contains anandamide, a neurotransmitter that is affectionately called the “bliss molecule.” While its effect within the brain is not long lived, as anandamide can give a temporary decrease in anxiety.
Cacao contains theobromine, which has a stimulating effect similar to caffeine, though not as strong.
PEA (phenylethylamine) in cacao is a natural aphrodisiac. Chocolate is often associated with Valentine’s Day, and perhaps this is one reason.
Lack of fiber in the diet can cause digestive problems. You can get some of your daily fiber needs through raw cacao.
Cacao contains flavanoids that increase circulation. This increased circulation is good for the brain. The antioxidants in cacao can be protective against dementia. The stimulant of theobromine also give a bit of a boost to the brain for the short term.
Theobromine in cacao can help to harden the enamel of teeth. There are also antibacterial properties in raw cacao that can help prevent tooth decay. The vitamins and minerals in cacao are also good for the teeth.
7. Hair and Nails
Cacao is a source of sulphur. Sulphur is good for your hair and nails.
8. Blood Sugar
Raw cacao contains chromium, which can be helpful for regulating blood sugar. Of course the benefit of cacao for blood sugar would be counteracted by cacao products that were high in sugar.
Catechin and epicatechin, two antioxidants in cacao have heart protective properties. Processing of cacao can destroy these antioxidants, so to be helpful the cacao must be raw.
Many women joke about chocolate cravings and PMS – they may be on to something. The magnesium,calcium, iron and B vitamins in cacao are helpful to women. If you are craving chocolate before your period, do find a good source of cacao in which to indulge. It is NOT all in your head!
Studies have actually found that raw cacao can reduce coughing, even as well as codeine. This may sound ridiculous if you are thinking what a mug of regular hot chocolate or bowl of chocolate ice cream would do to your cough. And certainly, cacao combined with dairy and sugar would make a cough worse. But raw cacao, especially mixed with some honey and coconut oil may actually allow you to get some sleep when you are suffering with a cough.
Cacao also can act as a natural bronchodilator. As with a cough, the cacao cannot be consumed with dairy and sugar to benefit someone with asthma. But natural cacao can often be included in the diet of an asthmatic, and may even prove to be helpful.
Can Chocolate Really Do All of That?
Cocoa mixed with sugar and dairy will probably not improve your health. But cacao is a highly nutritive food, and who doesn’t like getting some health benefit with a fun food like natural chocolate?
Raw cacao can be part of a healthy lifestyle. But if raw cacao is the only nutritious thing you consume, you will probably not notice any health benefit. A beauty of cacao is that you get a delicious treat that promotes health. Let it be one of many healthful foods you include in your diet. And let that healthful diet have the complements of some exercise, sunshine, rest and relaxation. Together these things will help you feel your best.
What Form of Cacao is Best?
Unprocessed cacao can be found in several forms. Each type will be suited best to different preparation methods or uses. You can use one or all of these forms of cacao.
Raw Cacao Powder
Raw cacao powder is less processed than regular cocoa powder, though low heat is generally used. It has a wonderful smell and is less “chalky” than regular cocoa powder.
Cacao powder can be used whenever a recipe calls for cocoa powder.
It can be blended with frozen ripe bananas for a delicious non- dairy “ice cream.”
It can be added to smoothies to make them chocolate flavored. The dark color will also help to “hide” the color of green smoothies, if you are serving this to a family member who is intimidated by “green” foods!
Cacao powder added to coconut oil and almond butter makes a delicious raw fudge.
Raw Fudge Recipe
- 1/4 cup raw almond butter
- 1/2 cup coconut oil (soft but not melted)
- 1/2 cup honey or blackstrap molasses
- 1/4 cup raw cacao powder
- Mix together thoroughly. Spread into an 8×8 parchment paper lined pan. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Cut into squares. Store your raw fudge in the refrigerator for one week – if it lasts that long!
Raw Cacao Nibs
Raw cacao nibs are made from fermented and dried cacao beans.
Cacao nibs are easy to mix into yogurt, pancakes, smoothies and trail mixes. They can be ground with coffee beans to make a mocha coffee drink. Be prepared; these do not “melt in your mouth” like chocolate chips. The feel is more like that of small nuts.
Raw Cocoa Butter
Raw Cocoa Butter is the fat from the cacao bean. This “butter” is quite hard at room temperature. You will not be able to easily spread it onto skin as you would with coconut oil or shea butter, but it is worth figuring out how to use it for your skin care because it has a wonderful smell and promotes healthy skin.
Cocoa butter in a lip balm tube does work to deliver the butter to your skin because the heat of your body will melt a bit at a time as you apply it. Raw cocoa butter is easy to add to other butters and oils to make delightful natural care products for your skin.
Cocoa Butter Lotion Bar
- 4 ounces beeswax
- 4 ounces coconut oil
- 6 ounces cocoa butter
Melt together in a double boiler. Pour into silicone molds, empty lip balm tubes, or empty deodorant tubes. Allow to harden.
If you like peppermint, after melting the oils, add 1 teaspoon of peppermint essential oil for a chocolate chip mint lotion bar.
Bars can be stored on a pretty soap dish near the sink.
To use, hold the bar in your hands. The heat from your hands will melt a bit of the bar and you can apply it to your skin wherever you would like.
Cocoa butter feels wonderful on dry skin. It can also be used for dry forms of eczema or dermatitis. It is commonly used in pregnancy to prevent stretch marks. Cocoa butter is nutrition for your skin.
Have you tried the superfood cacao powder? We would love to hear about it!