Everybody finds a little bit of chocolate soothing to the soul.
But the majority of chocolates that fill the shelves of supermarkets are full of processed refined sugar, dairy, and all sorts of artificial ingredients and fillers. The mainstream chocolate we are sold is a far cry from the nutritionally dense cacao beans that they are derived from, and due to the processing there is barely any nutritional benefits by the time it is made into a standard chocolate bar.
Fortunately, this is where you can utilise cacao into your diet, to still get your chocolate fix and the feel-good emotions that come along with it, as well as receiving a dose of nutrients and antioxidants whilst also skipping out on any nasty ingredients.
Cacao is the raw (or minimally-processed) bean that is harvested from the seed pod of the cacao tree. Cacao is scientifically known as Theobroma cacao. This name derives from the Greek words “theos” meaning “god”, and “broma” meaning “food”; translating to “food of the gods”. In ancient Mayan culture, cacao was considered more than just a food, instead it was approached as a divine delicacy that was to be revered. Cacao was consumed as a hot frothy drink, and the medicinal benefits were recognised by the Mayans as they would prescribe it for a wide variety of ailments. It was even considered to be so valuable that it was traded as a form of currency!
Due to the minimal processing of cacao, it retains many of the nutrients and antioxidants that are lost in its more processed brother known as cocoa, the form of chocolate more commonly found in choc chips, chocolate bars, hot chocolate and used in dessert recipes.
Raw cacao is considered a ‘superfood’, and for good reason too. Some of the nutrients it is rich in include iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, manganese and most prominently….magnesium! Cacao has been found to be one of the highest sources of magnesium out of all plant-based foods, which is the most common mineral that is deficient in today’s society. Magnesium levels play a huge role in brain functioning and mental health, as well as being essential to hundreds of smaller metabolic actions too. Magnesium also assists in the conversion of glucose into energy, allowing your brain to function with a lot more focus and efficiency. This is often the cause for those chocolate bar cravings after a long day at your desk using up a lot of mental energy!
Cacao is jam-packed full of antioxidants, with over 40 times the amount of antioxidants than blueberries! Antioxidants provide protection against free radical damage to our cells and tissues, which can cause premature aging in the body and many modern health issues. Cacao is a particularly rich source of flavanol, an antioxidant that has tremendous benefits for the heart that include reducing stroke risk, protection from cardiovascular disease, and improving blood flow and circulation.
Cacao can provide you with a natural blissful feeling and a happy buzz, due to its anti-depressant and mood elevation effects. This is due to anandamide and phenylethylamine, bliss molecules that boost your mood and provide a feeling of euphoria. Other neurotransmitters that are found in cacao include the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is the precursor for the brains production of serotonin…the happy hormone!
Cacao contains theobromine, which has a similar energising effect to caffeine without impacting your central nervous system as much. Incorporating a hot cacao into your routine instead of your coffee can help you to reduce your caffeine consumption without experiencing withdrawals, whilst also receiving a myriad of physical and mental health benefits.
Ways that you can incorporate this delicious superfood into your diet include:
Making a hot chocolate by adding a tablespoon of raw cacao powder to a mug of warmed plant-based milk, with a teaspoon of a natural sweetener such as maple syrup or coconut sugar.
For the warmer weather, you can make an iced chocolate by dissolving the raw cacao powder and sweetener with a tablespoon of hot water in a mug, and then adding cold plant-based milk and ice cubes!
Add a tablespoon to a smoothie.
Sprinkle raw cacao nibs on top of smoothie bowls or banana nicecream for a chocolatey crunch.
Use in dessert recipes such as raw treats, brownies, muffins, cakes and bliss balls.
Stir a tablespoon through your porridge.
Enjoy a Crunchbox raw chocolate bar or slice!
Enjoy the benefits of cacao in this delicious recipe. Vegan, raw and gluten free!
Raw chocolate brownie balls:
220g coconut shreds
5 tablespoon cacao powder
1/4 cup coconut nectar (or other liquid sweetener)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 tablespoon buckwheat
2 tablespoon cacao nibs
1. Place all ingredients apart from cacao nibs into food processor.
2. Blend until sticky mixture if formed and holds together when squeezed, add nibs and slightly blend again.
3. Roll mixture into balls, coat in desiccated coconut, then put in fridge to set.
4. Enjoy !