If you follow along with wellness trends and love to geek out on all things nutrition (like us!) then you’ve likely heard about the health benefits of eating dark chocolate. You may have even heard a health expert or two recommend chocolate with a high percentage of cacao - say 70-80%. Maybe you’ve wondered what that cacao % actually means. Or maybe you're not quite sure what cacao is to begin with, not to mention why you should be eating it. This blog is for you.
To put it simply, cacao is the base ingredient of all chocolate - without it, your favorite chocolate bar could not exist. But chocolate bars aside, cacao actually has a deep and rich history in ancient pre-hispanic cultures along the Yucatán such as the Olmecs, Maya, and Aztec people. Not only was it consumed as a food source, but it was also used as currency, as medicine, and in sacred ritual. The term “cacao” comes from the Olmec word “ka-ka-w”. Its scientific name is Theobroma cacao, which translates to "food of the gods” in Greek.
So what is cacao exactly?
The cacao tree is a tropical plant native to Central and South America. It produces pods about the size and shape of a football, and inside the pod is fleshy, zesty tasting cacao fruit. Inside of the fruit lies the coveted seeds aka cacao beans. While both the fruit and the seeds are edible and have been enjoyed for centuries, only the seeds are used to create modern chocolate. Once harvested, these “beans” are fermented, dried, ground into a paste, sweetened (or not), and used to create chocolate treats of all kinds. The fermented beans can also be processed into cacao powder, or broken into smaller “nibs”, which are often found online or at health foods stores.
Why should we eat it?
Cacao is a true superfood, containing even more antioxidants than fellow nutritional powerhouses like blueberries, pomegranates, and green tea, not to mention a wealth of trace minerals like magnesium, iron, and calcium. Cacao’s rich supply of flavonoids also makes it an excellent food for cardiovascular health, and the higher the percentage of cacao in the chocolate, the more flavonoids it will have. Cacao also contains unique compounds such as anandamide and phenylethylamine (PEA) which stimulate endorphins and other happy brain chemicals like serotonin. Yes, cacao bliss is a real thing.
How to enjoy cacao
To get the most authentic experience, choosing raw cacao is the best way to go. This ensures you get the most health benefits, and you also get to taste the various flavor complexities and nuances of the cacao bean itself. Enjoy raw cacao in:
Rawmio chocolate treats - no additional prep needed, just enjoy your little taste of raw chocolate bliss! Our unique nib-to-bar stone grinding process helps preserve the unique health benefits and properties of the cacao.
Raw cacao powder - use it as you would unsweetened cocoa powder for a less processed, more nutrient-rich option. It works well as a 1:1 sub for cocoa powder in brownies, cookies, or in hot chocolate. Cacao powder can also be used in savory recipes like chili or stews to add extra nutrition and an amazing depth of flavor.
Raw cacao nibs - sprinkle them on smoothie bowls or any other dish you’d like to add a pop of intensely dark chocolate flavor and crunch. Nibs are simply broken cacao beans and the flavor is deep and fruity with a slightly bitter aftertaste similar to coffee beans.
Cacao butter - this is the pure oil expressed from cacao beans. It is wonderfully aromatic and sweet-smelling. This luscious butter is responsible for chocolate’s signature melt-in-the-mouth texture. This is a great ingredient to have on hand if you want to channel your inner chocolatier and make authentic chocolate right at home.