There’s something powerful about chocolate. The decadent treat has an addictive pull—it’s delicious and alluring. In fact, some people equate chocolate with love or joy. Research has shown that dark chocolate triggers the release of “happy brain” chemicals.
There’s no doubt that chocolate is special—but not all chocolate is created equally. Nutritionists and foodies alike have recently begun turning to raw chocolate—or raw cacao—to get their chocolate fix.
What is Raw Cacao?
Raw cacao (kuh-cow) is the pure, unadulterated, whole-food source of chocolate. It is derived from the seeds of the fruits of the Theobroma cacao tree, which translates literally to “food of the gods.” Raw cacao is unrefined and unprocessed—in this natural state it is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Raw cacao comes in many forms: whole cacao beans, cacao nibs, cacao powder, and cacao butter.
What is the difference between cacao and cocoa?
A simple twist of letters represents a much larger difference in the end product. Cocoa refers to the adulterated, processed form of chocolate invented in 1828 by the Dutchman Coenraad Van Houten. Cocoa is actually cacao that has undergone a defatting and alkalizing process. The cacao beans are put through a hydraulic press to squeeze out the oils, ground into powder, and then treated with alkaline salts, which help the powder dissolve in water. This process is often referred to as “Dutching” and it cooks the chocolate, leaving it with a diluted flavor, darker color, and a drastically reduced nutritional value.
Later in 1879 Nestle created “milk chocolate” by adding powdered milk to the chocolate powder. This addition blocked the body’s ability to absorb the nutrients of cacao. Most people who think they have an allergy to chocolate actually have an allergy to the pasteurized dairy and refined sugar that is in most chocolate on the market.
Benefits of Raw Cacao
Raw cacao is considered a superfood because it is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. No longer is chocolate just a decadent treat—it’s actually a nutritious food with many healing properties.
- Magnesium: Raw cacao is the most concentrated source of magnesium found in nature. Magnesium is an essential mineral that supports the heart, builds strong bones, promotes elimination, and increases brainpower. Most of the population is deficient in this important mineral.
- Chromium: Raw cacao is the riches food source of chromium, which is critical for balancing blood sugar levels.
- B Vitamins: Raw cacao is high in B1, B2, B5, and B6, which facilitate the metabolic processes that are essential to life.
- Antioxidants: Raw cacao has twenty to thirty times more antioxidants than red wine or green tea.
- “Happy brain” chemicals: Raw cacao contains theobromine, phenylethylamine, and anandamide—chemicals released by the brain when we feel happy or in love.
Using Raw Cacao
Raw cacao is easy to use and is becoming more widely available as it grows in popularity. Raw cacao is available in several forms: cacao nibs, cacao butter, and cacao powder. Cacao powder is probably the most versatile form of cacao. It has a slightly more bitter taste than the Dutched cocoa powders on the market so many people use agave, yacon, or other natural sweeteners in combination with it. Store cacao powder in an airtight jar at room temperature. Cacao butter should be stored in the refrigerator and can be used to make decadent chocolate desserts.