’ve been hearing a lot about raw cacao bits and it’s health benefits so I wondered what is cacao?
Chocolate is a product that is produced from the fatty seed of the Theobroma cacao tree. The seeds (cacao beans) must be fully fermented to develop the chocolate flavor and fully dried to prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
For regular chocolate the cacao beans are roasted which further brings out the rich intense chocolate flavor. Raw cacao beans are exactly that, raw and un-roasted.
The cacao beans are then de-shelled which leaves the inner meat called cacao nibs. The nibs are then grounded up into a thick chocolate liquid which is then put through a press to separate the solids from the liquid (cocoa butter). The cocoa solids are then ground into cocoa powder.
Since raw cacao nibs pieces are unprocessed and un-roasted they contain higher amounts of theobomine, phenethylamine, antioxidants, flavonoids and trace minerals than their roasted counterparts and are full of cocoa butter. Raw cacao nibs are sold in health food and specialty markets and are hard and crunchy when bitten into and because they have no sugar added it is very bitter but has a strong, intense chocolate, sometimes nutty flavor.
Raw chocolate bars and candies are made from the raw cacao solids that have been ground into a powder. Usually agave nectar or palm syrup is added as the sweetener, cacao butter or coconut oil for the fat along with vanilla and celtic sea salt.
So there’s the answer to my question as to what is cacao. It’s chocolate in it’s many forms.
What is cacao’s health benefits? As for raw cacao, the majority of their health benefits are related to their high levels of the phytochemical theobromine. Theobromine is of the same molecular class as caffeine but is 10 times weaker. Medically theobromine is used to treat high blood pressure, as a diuretic to treat edema, a muscle relaxant of the bronchi in the lungs and as a heart stimulant.
The combination of the phytochemicals theobomine and phenethylamine in cacao has been linked to increasing the serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain which helps to increase the feelings of well being, boost cognitive abilities, induce an aphrodisiac mood elevating effect and decrease appetite which can lead to a natural weight loss.
The polyphenols in cacao may help to prevent the oxidation of the bad LDL cholesterol in the blood, thus reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The biggest health benefit touted by raw cacao is it high antioxidant activity. Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that are formed when your body breaks down food and is responsible for aging and tissue damage. Thus by reducing the amount of free radicals in the body it is believed that this will lower the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Let’s compare antioxidant activities using the ORAC value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity unit is a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of different foods and supplements) per 100g units:
Raw cacao: 28,000
Acai Berry: 18,500
Dark chocolate: 13,120
Milk chocolate: 6,740
Blueberries – 2,400
Blackberries – 2,036
Looks like raw cacao is good stuff, right? But as with anything, too much of a good thing can be detrimental and toxic to your health. So moderation in the consumption of chocolate in any form is the key to obtaining the good health benefits without experiencing the possibly severe side effects.
Buy only certified organic raw 100% cacao nibs. Many raw cacao beans are contaminated with the highly carcinogenic mold Aflatoxin.
High amounts of theobromine can affect the body’s central nervous system. Even in it’s natural form, theobromine is classified as a drug and can cause insomnia, tremors, restlessness, anxiety, heart palpitations, depression, chronic fatigue, depression, increase urine production which increases the loss of essential electrolytes, severe mood swings, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting.
Due to the euphoric, mood elevating effects of theobromine and phenethylamine, it can lead to a cacao/chocolate addiction.
Over consumption of chocolate in any form can lead to obesity. Raw cacao nibs contain high amounts of cacao butter, raw chocolate bars although sweeten with natural sugars and fats are still calorie laden.
Chocolate absorbs lead from the environment during production so there is a slight chance of mild lead poisoning from over consumption.
And never, never feed chocolate to dogs and cats, it is toxic to them. Animals have an insufficient capacity to metabolize theobromine. The toxic effects can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increased urination, seizures, internal bleeding, heart attacks and eventually death.