Delicious Superfood

Who would have thought that cacao, the source of chocolate, would have so many health and wellness benefits? The fact is that it does! Before we explore those benefits, though, let's learn about this versatile and delicious superfood and how to use it in some delicious recipes.

What is Cacao?

Cacao is the unprocessed, uncooked form of chocolate that comes in the form of seeds that are widely referred to as beans.

The beans grow on a tree that is native to Mexico and central and south America. The name of the tree, Theobrama, translates as “cacao, the food of the gods” in Greek. The small tree bears pods, each of which can contain up to 60 cacao seeds. These seeds are meticulously fermented and then dried for up to two weeks. Finally, the raw seeds are roasted using high heat, after which they may be combined with fats and sugars to make the cocoa powder that's used to make the familiar chocolate drink that almost anyone would enjoy. Remember, though, that unprocessed cacao beans also can be consumed raw (1).

More about Cacao...

The fermenting and roasting process brings out the flavors in cacao.

People say that they find notes of coffee and berries in the taste of high-quality cocoa, and this translates to a complex and delicious flavor of this superfood. To use raw cocoa, it's a simple matter to add it to drinks like smoothies. Remember that raw cocoa has a stronger taste, so it's wise to combine it with other foods to tone down the flavor. Milk chocolate is a good choice for drinks, until you become used to the flavor. Another strategy is to consume cocoa nibs, which are whole beans that have been peeled and chopped. They're similar to chocolate chips and can be used in many recipes.

Cacao Smoothie

Recipe and benefits...
  • 1 cup milk of your choice (almond, coconut, etc)
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1 banana
  • 2 Tbsp raw honey or agave nectar
  • 2 Tbsp cacao powder (try cacao nibs for extra texture)

Place the nut milk, ice, banana, raw honey and cacao in a blender. Blend on high until smooth and all of the ingredients are combined.

So, with a delicious cacao smoothie in hand, you're ready to begin reaping the many benefits of this versatile superfood. Here are just a few.

Chocolate Chili Truffles

Why not try this delicious recipe?
  • 1 cup chocolate chunks
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar or honey
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons toasted almonds, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cacao powder

In a large saucepan, melt chocolate over very low heat. Stir in agave, chili, almond extract and coconut milk. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes or until mixture is about the consistency of a thick frosting. Scoop mixture into balls and set aside on a parchment paper lined plate or baking sheet. Combine the almonds and cacao powder in a shallow bowl. Roll the truffle balls in the almond-cacao mixture. Makes10-12 truffles.

Benefits of Cacao

Cacao is easy to eat, even when you're having a busy day.

Cacao is nutritionally complex and rich in antioxidants, which means it contains flavonoids that help to prevent damage by free radicals. Cacao also can boost collagen, an important component of healthy skin. Along with some B-vitamins, cacao has both fat, protein and minerals, including iron, zinc, copper, calcium, sulphur, phosphorus and magnesium. Cacao contains chemicals that  can help you feel alert and focused by increasing your pulse rate. Such chemicals also help to increase mood and decrease depression. If you need to lose weight, consider using cacao as an aid. It contains compounds that can help to decrease appetite. In addition, this remarkable superfood has blood-thinning and anti-tumor properties.

Other Benefits of Cacao

Cacao is a rich source of minerals

As previously mentioned, cacao is a rich source of minerals. Here are a few details. All that's needed is a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder to get up to 9 percent of one's daily recommended intake of iron, manganese, magnesium and zinc. Iron is needed by the biological process that makes red blood cells. Manganese helps with maintaining a normal heart rhythm and producing energy. Zinc is essential for the body processes that develop new cells, including cells in the immune system. A deficiency of zinc reduces the number of cells that fight bacteria, leaving you at risk for a variety of ailments and illnesses. With all these benefits to recommend it, why not try your hand at making homemade chocolate?

Homemade Chocolate

Try your hands...
  • 1 cup cocoa butter, a fatty substance obtained from cacao seeds
  • 1 cup organic Dutch process cocoa powder
  • ½ cup raw honey or to taste. Using half this amount or less will make a bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract or other flavors to taste
  • Toasted chopped almonds, orange or mint extract, etc., optional

Melt cocoa butter in a double boiler or a glass bowl on top of a small pan with an inch of water (make sure water isn't touching bowl) over medium heat. When cocoa butter is completely melted, remove from heat and add cocoa powder, honey, vanilla and other flavor extracts. If using a solid raw honey melt with the cocoa butter.

Make sure all ingredients are well incorporated and smooth. Don't let water or liquid get into the chocolate because it can cause the texture to get mealy. Be careful  with wet hands or even a drop of water in the mold. Pour the chocolate into molds or onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a glass pan to harden. Let harden for several hours at room temperature and carefully remove from the molds. You can also refrigerate to harden it more quickly. Will store for over a week at room temperature or can be kept refrigerated for longer

Chocolate Almond Bars

Yummm!
  • 1 cup cocoa butter, a fatty substance obtained from cacao seeds
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup maple syrup (amount depending on preferred sweetness)
  • 1 cup cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup roasted almonds
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt

Melt cocoa butter in a double boiler or in a glass mixing bowl set over a small saucepan with 1 inch of water over medium heat. Alternatively, melt in the microwave in a mixing bowl until completely liquid.

Once melted, remove from heat and add maple syrup and whisk to combine. When the mixture is completely fluid with no separation, add cacao or cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Whisk to thoroughly combine.

Taste and adjust sweetness if needed. Pour the chocolate into candy molds or mini paper cupcake liners. Or simply line a baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the chocolate on top. Top with roasted almonds and sprinkle of salt.

Set in the refrigerator or freezer to harden for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Once completely solid, break or cut into pieces/bars. These can be kept at room temperature for serving. But for best freshness, store chocolate in an airtight container or freezer bag in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, or the freezer for 1-2 months.

With so much to recommend it for a healthy diet, cacao makes a great addition.