In this world of over processed and sweet-tooth inducing foods, you’ve probably been more aware of cocoa rather than cacao. Both are from the same origin, it’s just the process or lack of processing that differentiates the two. Cacao is the pure, unroasted form, whereas cocoa is generally roasted. The roasting leads to a bitter flavour, which you’ll find most manufacturers cover with refined sugars and dairy products.
I first discovered raw cacao (raw means it’s never heated above 42’C) around 3 years ago and it’s since become a key part of my own diet. The small bean, which grows in pod-like fruits on cacao trees in Africa and South America, is cold pressed in its unroasted form. This process separates the fat (the cacao butter) whilst protecting the enzyme content, overall nutritional value, and natural flavour. Raw cacao is a bit of a superhero when it comes to nutritional benefits.
Cacao was first discovered by the Aztecs, where the word cacao literally translated to “food of the gods” due to its incredible health boosting properties. Believe it or not, but raw cacao contains one of the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the world, meaning that by weight, cacao contains more antioxidants than blueberries, pomegranates, acai, red wine and goji berries combined. Antioxidants are important because they protect the body from harmful free radicals, which can otherwise lead to cell damage. All of this goes to suggest that raw cacao is both anti-ageing and may help to fight disease.
Magnesium rich diets are often praised for their long-term health benefits. In fact, research has shown that they can reduce the risk of diabetes by up to 33 percent, and it just so happens that cacao is also one of the best sources of magnesium. Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in over 300 chemical reactions in our body, ranging from helping the absorption of calcium to support healthy bones, to promoting cardiovascular health, nerve function and regulating high blood pressure.
Raw cacao is also a good source of the alkaloid Theobromine, which is known for its healing properties and is also a natural stimulant, often giving an energy boost sensation but without the energy dips associated with other stimulants such as caffeine. Unlike roasted cocoa, raw cacao contains high levels of phenethylamine (PEA), which is the adrenal-related chemical that we produce in our bodies when we fall in love (I’m personally in love with cacao – sssh, don’t tell anyone!). This is most likely to be one of the main reasons why so many of us just LOVE chocolate.
At this point you’re probably contemplating chowing down on a handful of cacao beans – I wouldn’t recommend it. There are so many ways to enjoy raw cacao, whether that’s raw chocolate bars (my personal favourite), or mixing raw cacao powder with smoothies, porridge, the list is both delicious and endless!