Cacao is known as the food (or drink) of the Gods! It has been traced back to the Mayan people who were thought to be the first to cultivate the cacao plant around 400 AD. The plant that is recognized today is actually a result of cross selection that started over 35,000 years ago and the scientific name is Theobroma Cacao.
Cacao powder is often labelled as a ‘superfood’ with good reason. The cacao bean has over 300 identifiable compounds including vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytonutrients. High in magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, beta-carotene and omega 6 fatty acids, cacao powder provides these and other nutrients so that your body performs at its peak levels.
Cacao trees are found in tropical regions all over the world, but predominantly two thirds of the world’s cacao supply comes from West Africa and Mexico. The cacao tree bears large melon sized fruits called cacao pods. When the pods are ripe they are cut from the tree, collected and split open to reveal rows of cacao beans covered in a white pulp. The pulp is removed, the beans are fermented, dried and cleaned before processing.
Once the cacao bean has been processed you end up with raw cacao powder, cacao nibs (the outer husk) and cacao butter (the oils of the beans).
Cocoa vs cacao powder
Cocoa is the term used for cacao that has been roasted at high temperature, which changes the chemical nature of the bean. This exposure to high temperature lowers the antioxidant capacity and reduces the nutrient density that is found in raw, cold pressed cacao. Otherwise, cocoa powder and cacao powder are interchangeable.
Cocoa butter vs cacao butter
Cacao butter is the pure, cold-pressed oil of the cacao bean. Raw cacao butter production doesn’t exceed 46 degrees celsius, whilst cocoa butter might undergo some heating during the pressing process. Raw cacao butter is more nutrient dense but otherwise they are totally interchangeable. Both are edible, stable vegetable fats that can be used in cooking and in preparations of beauty products. You might also come across refined and unrefined cocoa and coconut butter, where its colour and aroma are stripped. Unrefined is more supreme in our opinion, and is what we use in The Putty, Elements and Face Glow.
Health Benefits + Nutrients of Cacao
Be sure to note here – the benefits below are not about sugar and dairy laden milk chocolate!!!
- One of the greatest health benefits of cacao comes from the flavonols (a class of flavonoids – antioxidants) that are found in cacao which can increase nitric oxide bioavailability, activate nitric oxide synthase and exert anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet activity – all of which may improve vascular function and reduce blood pressure.
- It has also been shown that the consumption of dark chocolate may be a renal (kidney) protective agent.
- It also acts as a stimulant and can improve mental alertness.
- Cacao also contains anandamide, serotonin, phenylethylamine and dopamine which are natural euphoric compound. This means that cacao can act as a mood enhancer and unlike traditional drugs, it is without side effects. Another compound found in cacao beans is tryptophan, a potent natural anti-depressant, meaning that cacao has two mood enhancing compounds to help support anxiety and mild depression.
- Other benefits of cacao powder include its ability to help aid weight loss due to its chromium content; it helps regulate blood sugar levels; it has a high content of arginine which is known to have aphrodisiac properties (wowee – go cacao!) and it helps enhance circulation.
- Cacao is a powerhouse antioxidant and rates in the top 20 on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale. The ORAC scale is used to rate the antioxidant capacity of foods.
- Cacao also contains great levels of magnesium, which is an essential mineral during times of stress and helps you to feel more relaxed. It also contains manganese, zinc, calcium and potassium.
- Raw cacao even contains a decent level of vitamin C!
Best of all, cacao and cocoa butter have excellent skin benefits
- Cocoa butter has been widely used to reduce or prevent stretch marks and provides deep hydration and antioxidants to fight free radicals to keep your skin supple and moist.
- It has been noted to help with sensitive skin problems such as irritations, eczema and dermatitis.
P.S. Feeling peckish and looking for an excuse to get your daily dose? We have a knock-your-socks-off recipe on how to make a #noGuilt cake with it right here!