Why Cacao Is The Ultimate Superfood
No no no we are not talking about the standard cocoa- which is sweetened and more processed. We are talking CACAO. Cocoa’s origin.
And if you really want to get specific, criollo cacao. Oh yes. 40X more antioxidants than blueberries. (Other source here- this food is incredible!)
Let’s dive into specifics. What you need to know, the benefits, and how you can use cacao in your daily life.
The background of Cacao
For those who are super into wellness and health- cacao is becoming a mainstream topic and practice. It can be that for you too!
The big reason for the buzz is all the studies that are happening around cacao’s active ingredients. People are realizing (and feeling shocked, frankly) about how powerful this fruit is! Many had no idea.
And yes, it’s a fruit!
Cacao has been used for over 5,000 years. The Mayo-Chinchipe people were cultivating cacao around 5,300 years ago- using it for food and even in fermented alcohol drinks!
From that point on, the cacao bean was a common currency throughout Central and South America, with its scientific name coming about by a Swedish scientist. When he first classified the genus and species of the fruit, it was named Theobroma cacao, which literally translates to "food of the gods". It's no wonder why it's so heavenly! It is rumored that Moctezuma II, emperor of the Aztecs, only took liquid chocolate served in a gold goblet and flavored with vanilla, chili powder, or other spices with his meals. Smart man, right? Sounds divine.
In 1828, the cacao press came about and really revolutionized how it was produced. Before then, it was only for the rich and elite!
The Difference between cacao and cocoa
One of the questions that frequently arises when talking about cacao is this: is cacao the same thing as cocoa? The short answer is not really, no. The long answer? It starts from the same place, and it all has to do with processing. Everything we know as chocolate starts off in the same place--it starts with the Theobroma cacao tree. The tree is native to South America, and grows throughout places in Mexico, along the Amazon, and of course in our team’s native Peru.
Think of cocoa like chocolate candy or what we drink in mainstream hot chocolates. More sugary and processed. Still wonderful, but cacao powder or cacao nibs come from fermented beans that typically aren’t roasted.
The Many Benefits of Cacao
This where the popular argument came from for cacao having MORE antioxidants than the mighty blueberry, It’s the polyphenols that they were measuring. Cacao is very high in this.
Polyphenols are antioxidants. They are naturally occurring micronutrients that can be found in plants, food, and teas. There are many studies that confirm polyphenols are incredible for the human body- especially for cardiovascular benefits. In fact many cardiologists today say that incorporating polyphenols into your diet each day is one big step in caring for your heart!
This controlled study was particularly interesting. It was a thorough and extensive collection of all studies done on cacao polyphenols and flavanols in relation to cardiovascular activity. They concluded that short term -and possibly long term- cacao may support heart health. There was a scientific review of nine different studies which also touches on cacao’s possible benefits for cardiovascular strength.
Polyphenols can even help with inflammation, which is awesome.It is very important to purchase cacao that has its nutrients preserved. No heat and kept as a single ingredient with no filler.
Rich in Flavanols
There was an interesting study on a group of people who drank cacao regularly (think- an entire island of people!) and when they compared them to people who don't drink cacao on a regular basis... they noticed that the cacao drinkers had significantly lower blood pressure as a collective group. This is not causation, but could be correlation. Especially because flavanols can influence blood pressure. And Cacao has a lot of flavanols.
Flavanols are a kind of flavonoid and flavonoids are a kind of antioxidant. Flavanols in general help lower blood pressure because flavanols help improve nitric oxide levels in the blood.
Cacao can help mood
Aside from the physical health benefits, cacao also offers some emotional and mental health benefits. Most people think of eating chocolate as decadent. It's something that is a treat. It's often used as a reward. There is high value placed on chocolate. The reason why we give such value to chocolate could very well be a deeply rooted biological response.
Due to its high theobromine content, cacao has a proven link to improving mood. Why does cacao help improve mood? Scientists argue that it's due to the flavanols and theobromine.
Cacao has an ability to support in the production of serotonin (a natural mood stabilizer), and also- cacao is a sensory experience, and eating it and smelling it is incredibly pleasing. There is a lot to be said about the correlation between cacao and cognitive function.
There was even a study that involved pregnant women consuming chocolate. The findings were that women who increased the amount of cacao in their diet showed having babies that had a more positive temperament. Of course no study is perfect, but those results were interesting!
Ways to Use Cacao
Our team always has chocolate on the brain! By now we have many ways we use this beautiful and life giving fruit.
-As a substitute for any cocoa (you might want to add a sweetener)
-In any kind of baking
-Mixed into nut butters
-In frozen chocolate popsicles
-In all homemade candies
-As a tonic by itself