Cacao (pronounced “kuh-KOW”) beans are the dried seeds of a South American evergreen tree, Theobroma, which literally means “Food of the Gods”. Cacao is used to make most all chocolate products from cocoa powders and chocolate bars, to cocoa butter. But, it’s amazing health benefits are often lost by all of the added sugars, creams and cooking processes used to produce certain chocolate products.
South American cultures have used Cacao for its healthful and energizing properties (contains natural caffeine) for thousands of years. It is said that during the 16th Century, when the Spaniards arrived in Central America in search of gold, they found that Aztecs used cacao beans as currency. The Spanish especially enjoyed cacao as a delicious chocolate beverage flavored with vanilla, honey, flowers and spicy peppers. Sounds like hot chocolate to me!
Raw cacao beans, nibs, powders, and butters are a naturally rich source of antioxidants, estimated to have nearly 20 times the antioxidant levels of red wine and up to 30 times that of green tea. They are also amazing sources of natural magnesium and dietary fiber. David Wolfe, a raw food expert, considers cacao to be a Superfood, and breaks down all of the supporting details in his book here.
There are many ways to incorporate cacao into your diet; raw chocolate nibs, unsweetened cacao powder, raw dark chocolate bars (My favorite are from Gnosis Chocolate) or a good quality dark chocolate bar with at least 70% cocoa (note that process involved in making these bars includes heating the ingredients, which causes some of the oh-so-amazing nutrients to be lost.) However, good quality dark chocolate bars have less sugar and fewer fillers then milk chocolate bars and are a much healthier alternative. Here are some ideas on how to use cacao in your kitchen: