Raw cacao is like a health-conscious, chocolate lovers dream come true – the decadent taste of dark chocolate, only with vastly more nutritional benefits. And we're not just talking a few vitamins and minerals here and there, we're talking one of the planet's best sources of critical nutrients that are oftentimes lacking in our modern diets – things like calcium, magnesium, and iron along with powerful antioxidants that ward off free radical damage. Not only that, but cacao contains naturally occurring compounds that energize our bodies, promote mental clarity, and uplift our overall mood. What's not to love?!
If you're only familiar with cacao in the form of processed cocoa powder, or in chocolate, there's a whole world of uses to explore.
Here are our top ways to use cacao in all of its various forms from powder to nibs.
1. DIY Chocolate
Have you ever found yourself with a serious chocolate craving, scouring your kitchen cabinets for that 1/4 bar you thought you stashed for later, only to realize you must have already eaten it? Eeek. This is why having a few core cacao products in your pantry is key. Making your own DIY chocolate from scratch is not hard at all – simply gently melt raw cacao butter, then sift in some raw cacao powder and a sweetener of your choice, pour into a dish lined with parchment paper (or a chocolate mold if you're fancy!), then set in the fridge or freezer. BAM, you've got yourself some homemade chocolate. You may also choose to mix in some coconut butter or coconut oil for a more melty fudge-like result. Or skip the powder and butter and use unsweetened raw cacao paste, melt it down gently, and add your own sweetener of choice to suit your taste.
2. Chocolate Shakes and Smoothies
Wouldn't it be amazing if something as healthy as a smoothie could taste as decadent as a chocolate milkshake? With raw cacao, it can! Try it for yourself with a blend of frozen bananas, coconut milk, vanilla, and raw cacao powder. Try sneaking in a handful of spinach for added vitamins and iron – you won't even know it's in there. Looking to go low sugar? Try subbing in frozen cauliflower florets for half of the bananas in your recipe. Sprinkle some raw cacao nibs on top for even more dark chocolate flavor.
3. Chocolate “Nice Cream”
First, it was cauliflower transforming itself into pizza crust, now it's bananas fronting as ice cream. But don't be too skeptical. By blending or food processing frozen bananas (with just a touch of nut milk if needed) you will find yourself with the perfect base for ice cream. Blend in some raw cacao powder and you have a decadent and refreshing plant-based dark chocolate ice cream that you can feel great about eating any time of the day.
4. Superfood Hot Chocolate
What if we said you can transform your average cup of hot chocolate into a superfood bevy to nourish your body mind and soul. Start with a base of nut or oat milk (or another plant milk of choice!) and blend in raw cacao, a healthier sweetener option like coconut sugar, stevia, or raw honey, and additional superfoods like Himalayan pink salt, medicinal mushrooms or maca powder. It's like a hug from the inside out.
4. Baked Treats (Think brownies!)
One of the great things about raw cacao powder is that it can be used as an alternative to more processed, roasted cocoa powder in a perfect 1:1 ratio. So the next time you plan on making a batch of your world-famous brownies, try subbing in raw cacao powder instead and you'll be infusing your recipe with added vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants without shifting the taste or texture of your recipe whatsoever.
5. Overnight Oats and Chia Pudding
If you lead a busy lifestyle and have to be out the door early in the morning, you know how important it is to plan a little the night before. Both chia pudding and overnight oats are nutrient-dense, energy-sustaining breakfast ideas that can be prepped the night before in less than 10 minutes so you can grab and go. Simply soak your chia seeds or oats in nut milk with your choice of sweetener (optional), and if you want a fun chocolate variation, add cacao powder and some raw cacao nibs on top for crunch.
6. Chili and Hearty Stews
You may be surprised to learn that cacao has a savory side! In fact, it can really help add more dimension of flavor to soups and stews with its dark, deep, and slightly bitter flavor profile. Try adding it to a veggie chili or stew along with tomatoes, sweet potatoes, pinto or black beans, chipotle and cinnamon, and some lime juice and cilantro to garnish.
7. Raw Chocolate Sauce / Magic Chocolate Shell
This is perhaps the easiest recipe of all. Simply take your favorite liquid sweetener (agave, yacon syrup, and liquid raw honey work well!) and mix it with melted coconut oil and raw cacao powder and you have a healthy chocolate sauce that can be drizzled over ice cream for that perfect chocolate shell effect.
8. Energy Balls and Bars
How to make energy balls, bites, and bars stand out from the crowd? Add cacao powder to the mix. Try blending rolled oats with raw walnuts, coconut flakes, raw almond butter, vanilla, Medjool dates, Himalayan salt, and a generous amount of raw cacao in a food processor, then forming into bars or balls. Talk about the perfect healthy cure for a brownie craving. Great for kids too!