History of Cacao

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Cacao powder is sourced from the seeds of the Cacao fruit that grows on the cacao tree, a plant native to the tropical regions of Central America, southern America, and West Africa.  The Cacao fruit tree, also known as Theobroma cacao is an evergreen tree that produces a ripening yellow to orange fruit called Cacao pod which measures 18 cm long and 9 cm wide.

The Cacao fruit pod is made up of a hard nutshell that encloses the nutritious cacao seeds embedded in a white pulp. To produce the Cacao powder, the thin outer lining of the Cacao seed is first removed then separately roasted and milled to produce whitish chocolate liquor called Cacao butter. The remaining inner part of the seed is cold-pressed at low temperature to produce a dark powder that is jam-packed with nutritious supplements. The powder is Cacao powder.

Theobroma cacao trees are grown worldwide with a host of countries along the equator and within the Cacao belt cultivating the crop. The top world producers of Cacao are Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, and Ghana. Other countries that grow Cacao are Brazil, Madagascar, USA, Philippines, and Sri Lanka.

The cacao has been used by ancient cultures throughout centuries as a health supplement. For instance, the Mayans and the Aztecs communities used cacao to make a ritual beverage that was shared during the important occasions such as the marriage ceremonies and religious gatherings.

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What makes cacao so special?

Most researchers focus on Cacao’s powerful content of flavonoids phytochemicals. It has a much higher content than tea and wine, two foods mostly touted for their high flavonoid content. Cacao is also a rich source of various nutrients that synergistically work with phytochemicals such as flavonoids.

Cacao is more than just a phytochemical powerhouse, it’s also a potent source of healthy fat, fiber and, minerals such as iron, magnesium, and copper.

Nutritional composition of Cacao powder according to USDA.

Calories – 120

Calories from fat – 23

Total fat – 2.5g (4% DV)

Saturated fat – 1.5g (7% DV)

Sodium – 20mg (1% DV)

Total Carbohydrates – 19.0g (6% DV)

Dietary fiber – 7.0g (28% DV)

Protein – 5g

Calcium – 4% DV

Iron – 16% DV

 

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Fat: The Misunderstood Nutrient Present in Cacao

Fat sure can be so confusing. Remember when all the health recommendations advise on low-fat diet intake? Or even the nonfat diet trends? Saturated fats are not recommended at all due to their link with increased levels of LDL. However, not all the saturated fatty acids raise the levels of cholesterol. Stearic acid, the main predominant saturated fat present in cacao, is an exception! Current researchers prove that it is neutral on the LDL cholesterol and in some cases, it may lower it.

What is the difference between Cacao and Cocoa?

At first impression, you may think that Cacao and Cocoa are similar as they are extracted from the same tree and the same fruit, but you got it wrong because both products are two different things.

Cocoa is made by heating the cacao seeds at high temperatures and in the process enzymes responsible for nutrition benefits are reduced and thus the overall nutritional value of end product is lowered. On the other hand, the Cacao is formed through a cold-pressing process at low temperatures resulting in an end product with high nutritional composition.

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Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Cacao Powder.

Cacao powder is an excellent source of nutrients and it contains a high amount of antioxidants, huge concentrations polyphenolic compounds, high levels of magnesium and high amount of fibers. Additionally, the cacao seeds are considered  ‘ superfood ‘ due to the dense composition of essential nutrients and scientifically proven health benefits.  Some of the health benefits of cacao powder have been proven while others are still under research.

We are going to give you an in-depth breakdown of scientifically proven health benefits of Cacao powder. Sit back and relax;

  • Cacao powder as an antioxidant.

Antioxidants are compounds that help to revitalize the natural healing ability of our bodies by fighting off the damaging effects of oxidative stress. Organic raw cacao is an excellent source of antioxidants. Nutritionists say that the antioxidant concentration in cacao is 40X that of Blueberries.

Comparison of the antioxidant levels of Cacao powder and other superfoods.

  • It has 4x the antioxidants of Goji berries.
  • It has 80x the antioxidants of green tea.
  • It has 40x antioxidants of blueberries.

According to data by US Department of Agriculture, a 100g serving of raw Cocoa powder has an ORAC value is 95, 500μ mol TE while the same serving of 100g Blueberries has an ORAC value of 2,400 μ mol TE. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) measures the ability of our body to absorb free radicals that we get exposed to.  These radicals include the pollutants and cigarette smoke. The high amount of ORAC means a higher amount of the antioxidants and thus a high chance of cancer prevention caused by free radicals.

Raw cacao powder also contains the highest amount of Flavanols and Polyphenols antioxidant. Raw cocoa powder contains 30.1 mg of Flavanols per 1g, 3X more than any other superfood. Flavanols have numerous health benefits that which include improving the arteries elasticity and boosting the blood flow.

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  • Cacao for cardiovascular diseases.

The flavonoids in cacao have antioxidant properties which protect the cells and lipids involved in atherosclerosis development from oxidative damages and inflammations. The flavonoids promote the production of nitric oxide, which has a significant effect on vasodilation and vasoconstriction.

Cacao powder plays a significant role in reducing the inflammation caused by adhesions molecules. Adhesions molecules are proteins that cause the attachment of white blood cells and other substance to walls of heart arteries resulting atherosclerotic plaques that block the arteries and can result in a sudden rupture or heart attack.

According to a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Cacao helps to increase the “good” HDL cholesterol levels and lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. High concentrations of LDL cholesterols levels are responsible for most of the heart diseases. Flavanols in cacao have a significant effect on the functions of the endothelium as it reduces oxidative stress as well as increase g production of nitric oxide. Good endothelial functioning widens the blood vessels thus reducing the occurrence of hypertension. A review study done in 2012 on twenty clinical trials on the relationship between cacao and blood pressure showed that there was a significant reduction in blood pressure in the participants who consumed cacao in comparison to those who didn’t consume cacao. Therefore, Cacao lowers blood pressure and risks of hypertension.

Furthermore, Cocoa contains more than 700 compounds and Polyphenols that altogether prevent the hardening of arteries. Cocoa prevents blood thickening by thinning the blood hence reducing the blood clot in veins and arteries. Thus eating raw cocoa is as beneficial as taking aspirin daily.  The lowering of blood pressure and the effects on lipids of plain dark chocolates represents a real and cost-effective strategy for prevention of the cardiovascular diseases in persons with metabolic syndrome. However, chocolate needs to be dark and have at least 60 percent cocoa, or formulated and enriched with polyphenols.

  • Cocoa as an Antidepressant

Cacao creates euphoria and enhances moods. It contains four neurotransmitters chemicals; serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine, and phenylethylamine. These neurotransmitters help in promoting well-being, Cozy feelings and even elevate depression. Furthermore, the phenylethylamine neurochemical in Cacao has been found to create aphrodisiac effects and contentment feelings. The phenylethylamine or PEA triggers pleasurable opium-like neurochemicals that are often released during sexual activity. It is this reason that has made Chocolate a popular gift on Valentine’s Day.

According to a research published on the international scientific journal, Nutritional Neuroscience by French ETAP-Applied Ethology, two doses were tested behavioral animals and after two weeks the antidepressant-like effects were observed on the animals’ new behaviors as compared to the previous behavior before the test. The research concluded that “cacao is a promising alternative for the antidepressant agents.”

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  • Cacao for skin care.

Majority of people find a good look at the beauty of the skin. Cacao helps to keep the skin healthy, natural and smooth. The high amount of antioxidants in the skin protects the body from free radicals such as UV light by preventing their penetration to skin tissues. Raw Cacao contains a high amount of vitamin C with One serving (28g) of the Cacao supplying our bodies with 21% of RDA of Vitamin C. The Vitamin C helps protect the skin and keep it healthy.

The omega 6 fatty acid in the cacao helps in cellular healing of the skin by increasing the rate of new skin regeneration. Cacao has also super absorbent properties that act as a sunscreen and prevent the Penetration of UV light to the skin. According to a research published in Journal of Nutrition by the Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf women between 18-65 years were recruited and given dry Cacao powder mixed with 100 grams of water daily and after 6 weeks of cocoa consumption, the women experienced 15 percent less skin reddening from UV light. The ability of the Cacao to increase the blood flow by reducing the constriction of arteries helps to keep the skin healthy. Like any other tissue in the body, a healthy skin requires good blood flow.

  • Cacao for weight loss.

If you dream of shedding off the extra weight, then you should try the Cacao powder. Cacao contains MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitors that are commonly found in the weight loss products. The MAO inhibitors work to suppress appetite thus reducing the overfeeding. Cacao contains about 7.0g of dietary fibers in a 28 grams serving. This high amount of the fibers contributes to about 28 % of our Daily Value (DV). Fibers increase the production of bodies’ digestive enzymes thus improving the digestion process. Additionally, when fibers dissolve in water, they become bulk and this helps you feel full for long reducing over-eating.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers investigated 3 types of Cacao extracts on 3 types of enzymes (phospholipase, alpha-amylase and pancreatic lipase,) that contribute to fat metabolism. The investigation found out that a Cacao extract can inhibit enzymes in vitro hence contributing to weight loss.

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  • Cacao for muscle growth and strength.

According to a research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Cocoa has been found to possess a molecule called (-)-epicatechin. The molecule has been found to exhibit some similar properties as  Myostatin produced by the muscles. Myostatin is myokine that acts to suppress the muscle growth thus reducing the excess development of organs. When the Myostatin is suppressed, the growth of muscle increases. When the (-)-epicatechin molecule in cacao is ingested into the body, the production of Follistatin hormone is stimulated. This Follistatin hormone is a myokine hormone that promotes muscle growth by indirectly hindering myostatin signaling.

  • Type 2 Diabetes, Insulin Resistance, and Cacao’s Antioxidants

A surprising and interesting research on cacao is its effects on diabetes. Diets rich in flavanols reverse the vascular dysfunctions in diabetes while highlighting the therapeutic potentials in any cardiovascular diseases. The benefit of cacao in the treatment and prevention of diabetes has been well established over the years. A number of factors explain the positive effects of cacao on diabetes. For instance like hypertension, diabetes is related to endothelium functioning. Hyperglycemia, a diabetes trademark causes damaging to the endothelial wall.

The flavonols in cacao increase production of nitric oxide, thus improving vasodilation and vasoconstriction. When the blood flows well the endothelium is less susceptible to diabetes damages. Additionally, the epicatechin, a type of flavonol, improve the sensitivity of the insulin and reduces the resistance of insulin, oxidative stress and inflammation in the fat and muscle cells.

Having gone through the numerous Health benefits of Cacao powder, it will be prudent you incorporate the raw cacao powder into your diet as you will get numerous nutrients in this one ‘ superfood ‘. Also, remember to avoid the cocoa powder as most important nutrients have been destroyed during the heating process. The raw unprocessed cacao powder is the best choice you should go for if you want to get the health benefits.

 

Sources:

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/8/2057S.short

http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-nutr-071811-150642

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/91/1/46/4597175

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/1752-153X-5-5

http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/119/10/1433.short

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2011.641041

https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/97/6/1201/4576803

http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2012/fo/c2fo10267f

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0_30

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/23c7/a59b65ad403435b1dc2c59d9c713a2dfc5ce.pdf

http://www.jad-journal.com/article/S0165-0327(06)00084-X/abstract

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/76/4/798.short

https://jdmdonline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2251-6581-13-30

 

 


Chocoholic? Discover the Many Benefits of Cacao

It’s a well-known fact that millions of people enjoy eating chocolate-based foods and treats. Before you think that this is an unhealthy habit, read on to learn about cacao, a superfood with numerous benefits.

Cacao is a Well-Known Mood Enhancer and Aphrodisiac

Did you know that cacao contains a mood enhancer called anandamide? Known as the “bliss molecule,” anandamide can create a feeling of euphoria when consumed that can override a bad mood or negative feelings. In addition, cacao contains another mood-enhancing substance called phenethylamine, also known as PEA. PEA is considered effective as an endorphin-releasing substance that contain opium-like pleasure releasers that many people experience when they fall in love or engage in sexual activity. Perhaps this is why cacao-based products are so popular on Valentine’s Day.

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Cacao-based products popular on Valentine's Day

Cacao Helps to Balance Hormonal Mood Swings and Prevent Cardiovascular Disease

While it’s never wise to make medical claims about a food, there is evidence that cacao may help with boosting the level of seratonin, a powerful brain chemical that enhances the level of calming hormones in the brain. This is thought to promote and restore feelings of well-being. Also, women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can benefit from cacao’s seratonin-releasing activity. Another powerful aspect of cacao is that it contains flavanols,  anti-inflammatory and heart-protective substances that are thought to protect against heart disease, improve blood circulation and lower the risk of stroke. In fact, cacao contains more that 700 compounds including polyphenols that may be able to help lower “bad” cholesterol and assist in preventing hardening of the arteries. Cacao also may work to thin the blood and  prevent blood clots. Research indicates that cacao might be just as effective as taking aspirin to forestall heart disease.

Cacao May Prevent Premature Ageing and Can Assist with Weight Loss

It’s well-known that green tea and red wine have strong antioxidant properties. Cacao contains polyphenols, which also are antioxidants. In addition, anthocyanins like those found in dark coloured fruits, along with catechins like those found in green tea work to protect cells from damage or premature oxidation. Also, drinking a cup of hot cacao before meals can help to suppress appetite by way of the MAO inhibitors it contains. MAO inhibitors often are found in weight-loss products, and the ones found in cacao allow more seratonin to circulate in the brain. If cacao tastes too strong to you, simply modify it by adding some nut milk, rice or coconut milk to improve the taste. If you heat your cacao beverage gently, it will release a higher level of these important substances. Just add one teaspoon of cacao to a cup of hot milk or hot water and drink it 10 to 15 minute before meals.

Cacao May Help With Energy Levels, Diabetes and Blood Pressure

If you find yourself feeling lethargic and out of energy, magnesium is a solution worth  considering. Did you know that cacao has one of the highest levels of magnesium found in a natural food source? Also, it’s thought to protect the body against osteoporosis. Magnesium is particularly important for type II diabetics. In addition, it’s traditionally considered effective for  those with high blood pressure. A recent study indicates that cacao intake may be effective in reducing blood pressure when a small amount is taken every night.

Cacao’s Remarkable Skin Benefits

Cacao may be considered effective in preventing skin cancer, a British study showed. Just 20 grams a cacao per day may allow you to stay in the sun twice as long a those who do not take this supplement. Cacao improves skin texture and gives the skin a glowing aspect. Further, users often experience improved microcirculation and increased oxygen saturation, both of which may help in improving the skin’s hydration level. Finally, cacao is thought to assist in preventing skin cancer because of its ability to protect against harmful UV rays.

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More Important Benefits of Cacao

If you’re concerned about your appearance, know that cacao can benefit the hair and nails, making them strong and smooth. The antioxidant benefits of cacao may be effective in people who needed to reduce their insulin resistance. For those with impaired glucose tolerance, cacao may help to restore a proper balance. It’s also considered effective for smokers and for those who wish to improve their bowel and kidney functions. If you have concerns about your metabolism, cacao is worth considering because it helps to reset the metabolism and restore one’s internal balance. In addition, the importance of antioxidants for the human body cannot be understated. Another recent study reported that cacao reduced the stress hormone cortisol, improved microbial activity in the gut and enhanced the metabolism.

With so many positive aspects and benefits, shouldn’t you consider taking cacao as a supplement?


Discover Cacao: An Amazing Superfood

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.