Recent studies are celebrating the fact that chocolate is beneficial for us, but before we take that for face value – let’s delve into what makes it so beneficial. Firstly, they do not mean the average, store purchased chocolate bar off the shelf. Instead, the chocolate they are referring to is cacao.
Cacao is the purest form of chocolate, which is derived from the South American native ‘Theobroma cacao tree’. This tree produces pods which are cracked open to reveal seeds, which resemble coffee beans. These beans are known as raw cacao beans, and are quite bitter to the taste. The next process can lead one of two ways; cacao or cocoa.
The process of making raw cacao keeps the living enzymes in the product, which happens by cold-pressing un-roasted cacao beans. Cocoa is made by roasting the beans at a high temperature, which reduces the enzyme content and overall nutritional value of the powder.
Cacao is the highest plant based source of iron, boasting a huge 7.3mg per 100g. While this might not seem like a lot, compared to beef and lamb this is double if not triple the iron content (2.5mg, 3.6mg). One important factor to note, is that as this is a non-haem source (plant based), consuming cacao with a source of vitamin C will increase your rate of absorption greatly! Think citrus fruits, such as oranges and kiwis, which pair greatly with chocolate.
Cacao is a great source of magnesium, which is associated with healthy blood pressure, strong bones and promotes a healthy working cardiovascular disease. Cacao also contains iron which aids in red blood cell production, calcium for strong bones, zinc for wound healing, copper assists in immune function and manganese which helps with cognitive function. Cacao is also known to be have flavonoids, which are anti-inflammatories and inhibits pro-flammatory enzymes within the body.
Different products can be made from the cacao bean these properties, such as cacao powder, cacao butter and cacao nibs. These can be added to a variety of foods which increase the nutrient content, the flavour and the texture.
Here are a couple of ways we love to incorporate raw cacao into our dishes:
Homemade chocolate (mixed with coconut oil and pure maple to be used as a hard shell over coconut ice cream and some citrus fruits… you get the idea!)
Rolling bliss balls in for a different finish (cacao powder and nibs)
Toppings for smoothie bowls, adds a nice crunch!