You are allowed to eat chocolate, but only the right kind of chocolate.
Dark chocolate is naturally rich in antioxidants, putting it in the front seats of the latest superfoods list.
That is good news for all the chocolate lovers out there but are you actually eating real chocolate?
Cacao vs. Cocoa
A topic that is confusing, today we are going to clear it up.
The Cacao/Cocoa Tree
At the beginning is the cacao tree with the pods hanging from it.
The cacao tree bears two harvests of cacao pods per year. Around 20cm in length and 500gms in weight, the pods ripen to a rich, golden-orange color.
Within each pod there are 20-40 purple, 2cm long cacao beans covered in a sweet white pulp.
Cacao Pods & Beans
Harvesting cacao pods is very labour-intensive.
Ripe pods are gathered every few weeks during the peak season. The high pods are cut with large knives attached to poles, taking care not to damage nearby flowers or buds.
The pods are collected in large baskets, which workers carry on their heads, and piled up ready for splitting.
The pods are split open by hand and the seeds or beans, which are covered with the sweet white pulp or mucilage, are removed ready to undergo the two-part curing process – fermentation and drying. This prepares the beans for market and is the first stage in the development of the delicious chocolate flavor.
The Fermentation Process
During fermentation the cacao pulp clinging to the beans matures and turns into a liquid, which drains away and the true chocolate flavor starts to develop.
Fermentation methods vary considerably from country to country, but there are two basic methods – using heaps and "sweating" boxes.
The heap method, traditionally used on farms in West Africa, involves piling wet cocoa beans, surrounded by the pulp, on banana or plantation leaves spread out in a circle on the ground. The heap is covered with more leaves and left for 5-6 days, regularly turned to ensure even fermentation.
In large plantations in the West Indies, Latin America and Malaysia, strong wooden boxes with drainage holes or gaps in the slats in the base are used, allowing air and liquid to pass through. This process takes 6-8 days during which time the beans are mixed twice.
In Nigeria, cacao is fermented in baskets lined and covered with leaves.
The dried beans are cracked and a stream of air separates the shell from the nib, which leaves us with something we call cacao nibs. Nibs are ready to eat, and/or use further in your creations like smoothies and chia puddings. Yum!
The next step makes all the difference.
Processing the beans/nibs.
To end up with truly raw cacao powder, the beans are not being roasted or if they are, they have to be treated under 118 degrees before processing them further.
Processing the beans without exceeding the heat, ensures that enzymes, vitamins and minerals are still alive, and is being called cacao.
Everything that is being roasted above the allowed temperature is being referred to as cocoa.
Cocoa is mostly even further processed and add ons such as sugar and flavorings are the norm.
Some companies claim that roasting the beans brings out the characteristic chocolate flavor and aroma. This flavor however, actually starts to develop during fermentation.
The roasted nibs are ground in stone mills until the friction and heat of the milling reduces them to a thick chocolate-coloured liquid, known as 'paste.' It contains 53-58% cocoa butter and solidifies on cooling.
The cacao paste can then be pressed in powerful machines to separate into the cacao butter and cacao powder.
So which one am I using to make chocolate?
Now that you know to use cacao powder for you healthy treats, instead of the processed cocoa, you probably want to know what to use to make chocolates with.
The answer is all 3, the paste, the butter, and the powder.
The easiest and simplest method is taking the cacao paste.
Try shaving the block of paste with a sharp knife into little pieces, and melt them in a double boiler over hot water, or in your dehydrator.
Once melted you can stir in your preferred sweetener, and any other add ons, like superfoods (maca, lucuma etc.), essential oils, vanilla, nuts and dried fruits.
Pour your mixture into chocolate molds and let sit in the fridge or freezer.
Using the paste requires to add more sweetener, as the paste is more bitter.
If you choose to use cacao paste, you would also cut it into small piece, by the way using your food processor works really well, and them let it melt.
Next step would be to stir in cacao powder, you sweetener and any other preferred treats. Pour into molds and let sit.
Another method would be to use coconut oil instead of cacao butter. So simply liquify coconut oil, and mix will cacao powder and sweetener of your choice. Pour into molds and let sit.
Be aware that the chocolates will be rather soft and melt when left at room temperature.
Here is a simple recipe for dark chocolate:
And any nuts, seed, dried fruits, and or superfoods you would like to add.
As mentioned above: simply cut the cacao butter into little pieces, melt in a double boiler, mix with the cacao powder and sweetener, and what else you would like.
Pour into chocolate molds, put in the freezer to harden and enjoy.
Possible Benefits of Raw Cacao:
- Increases energy
- Increases circulation
- Lowers insulin resistance
- Protects nervous system: Cacao is high in resveratrol, a potent antioxidant also found in red wine, known for its ability to cross your blood-brain barrier to help protect your nervous system
- Shields nerve cells from damage
- Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reduces your risk of stroke
- Reduces blood pressure
- Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease: The antioxidants found in cacao help to maintain healthy levels of Nitric Oxide (NO) in the body. Although NO has heart benefiting qualities, such as relaxing blood vessels and reducing blood pressure, it also produces toxins. The antioxidants in cacao neutralizes these toxins, protecting your heart and preventing against disease.
- Guards against toxins: as a potent antioxidant, cacao can repair the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the risk of certain cancers. In fact cacao contains far more antioxidants per 100g than acai, goji berries and blueberries. Antioxidants are responsible for 10% of the weight of raw cacao.
- Boosts your mood: cacao can increase levels of certain neurotransmitters that promote a sense of well-being. And the same brain chemical that is released when we experience deep feelings of love – phenylethylamine – is found in chocolate.
- It is rich in minerals: magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese.