My love for cacao runs deep. As a Certified Holistic Nutritional Consultant, Food Scientist, Reiki Practitioner and Kitchen Witch, I have come to appreciate the energetic, medicinal, nutritional and functional properties of this sacred food on an all-encompassing level. I want to give you a run down of how magnificent cacao actually is and my experience with it.
Cacao is the fruit/bean/pod/pulp of the Theobroma cacao tree (cocoa tree) which is fermented and transformed into ingredients we more commonly know as cacao/cocoa powder, butter, nibs, paste and chocolate. The term Theobroma actually translated to “food of the Gods” which is why it is considered such a sacred food4.
In its earliest forms, the Mayans used cacao to create a ritual beverage that was shared during marriage ceremonies, providing one of the first known links between chocolate and romance.
After a century, Spain lost its monopoly on the European chocolate market. By the mid-1600s, the drink made from the little brown beans had gained widespread popularity in France. By 1700 chocolate shops were common in England2.
Cacao is predominantly grown in Africa, Asia and South America. Cacao pods are hand picked using long-handled steel tools. Pods are collected and split open with a sturdy stick, and the beans inside are removed. A farmer can expect 20 to 50 beans per pod, depending on the variety of cacao. Approximately 400 beans are required to make one pound of chocolate (4 Lindt® chocolate bars)5.
From Bean to Bar
The cacao beans are placed in 1-2 ton wooden boxes with holes in the bottom to allow for aeration and drainage during fermentation. The beans are covered with banana leaves to conserve heat generated and are fermented for 5-7 days by the naturally occurring yeasts, lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria. Cacao beans are then dried for 10-14 days by sun or forced mechanical-heat to ensure the moisture content and water activity are low enough so that they do not spoil5.
Cacao products refer to those that have NOT been roasted, whereas cocoa products refer to those that have been roasted. Roasting creates a Maillard reaction which enhances the chocolate’s color & converts tannins into neutral tasting phlobaphenes, making the cocoa less bitter & astringent. Cacao or cocoa is then ground to form nibs, paste, butter or chocolate.
Benefits of Cacao
Cacao is a rich source of iron, magnesium and antioxidants. It also contains calcium, zinc and potassium, all of which increase during the fermentation process1. All of these nutrients are supportive of menstruating people which is often why people crave chocolate close to their periods when these nutrients are being lost through bleeding. The body is very smart in this way of recognizing the medicinal benefits of cacao.
Cacao also contains two chemicals that act as aphrodisiacs, inducing the feeling of love. One of these compounds is tryptophan, a building block of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter involved in arousal. The other being phenylethylamine, a stimulant related released in the brain when people fall in love3. The energetics of this love induction is very supportive of helping to open the heart chakra to giving and receiving love. The heart is very connected with the womb in the root chakra, therefore the earthiness of cacao can be very grounding as well.
Try Making These Cacao Recipes
- My Everyday Cacao Dandy Blend Elixir (dairy free)
- Salted Dark Chocolate Almond and Cashew Butter Cups (Vegan & Gluten Free)
- Vegan Dark Chocolate Cherry Protein Smoothie
- Dark Chocolate Cherry Chia Parfait (Vegan & Gluten Free)
- Afoakwa, E.O., Kongor, J.E., Takrama, J.F. and Budu, A.s. 2012. Changes in acidification, sugars and mineral composition of cocoa pulp during fermentation of pulp pre-conditioned cocoa (Theobroma cacao) beans. International Food Research Journal 20: 1215-1222.
- Cacao Now. (2021). Cacao history. https://cacaonow.ca/the-history-of-cacao/
- Eat Something Sexy. (2021). Chocolate aphrodisiac & health benefits. https://www.eatsomethingsexy.com/aphrodisiac-foods/chocolate/
- The Conscious Club. (2019, Nov 12). The sacred power of cacao. https://theconsciousclub.com/articles/2019/10/9/the-sacred-power-of-cacao-how-an-ancient-plant-medicine-can-open-our-hearts
- World Cocoa Foundation. (2014, April 1). Cocoa market update. https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/Cocoa-Market-Update-as-of-4-1-2014.pdf