Chocolate. We crave it, we savor it, we gift and fight for it. I’m raiding a jar of raw chocolate right this second. I have to pause between bites. My eyes close and I have a big, grin on my face. Nothing else really matters. It’s easy to lose yourself in chocolate.
When you think of cacao, you usually think of chocolate. You might have even heard about the health benefits of the cacao. Once you remove all the sugar, that is. That's because cacao is a super ingredient.
In its purest form, cacao is high in antioxidants and one of nature's best sources of magnesium.
Cacao Is A Superfood
The superfood of all superfoods, cacao—the dried seeds at the heart of making chocolate—is also one of the highest sources of magnesium in nature, full of antioxidants, calcium, zinc, copper and selenium. Cacao contains more antioxidants per gram than blueberries, goji berries, red wine, raisins, prunes and even pomegranates. It triggers three neurotransmitters that are associated with elevating mood and mental well-being: serotonin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine.
In moderation, it can be a powerful tool for body, mind and soul. However, over the years, the processing of chocolate has led to many products containing less and less cacao along with chemicals, pesticides, zero nutrients and lots of dairy and sugar, which can spike insulin levels.
So what is cacao? Where does it come from? How is it used? Is it chocolate? Is it cacao or cocoa? Let's answer these questions. To tell you the story of cacao. Let's go back to the farms.
What is cacao?
Cacao grows on trees like these gorgeous pods here. Samoa is known for growing one of the rarest types of cacao in the world because of its flavour and properties. When you break the pot open, you get these aromatic fleshy seeds inside. When I was growing up, we used to eat these. And they taste sweet and delicious and they're full of goodness.
The many forms of cacao
We take those fleshy seeds, let them ferment a bit and then dry them out in the sun for five to 10 days when ready you get these amazing raw beans, packed with nature's nutrients. Traditionally, we would roast these beans on a hot plate, over a fire to prepare them to be turned into the drink called Koko Samoa (imagine drinking the purest, healthiest hot chocolate ever).
Like our friends in the chocolate making world, here at The Koko Samoa, we use a more controlled roasting process to get the consistency and quality we want. We have preciously created that delicious cacao flavour profile that we've come to be known for.
We also have a zero waste way of thinking. Why waste good nutrients?
So from the cacao husk that is removed from the bean, and is usually discarded, we create our cacao tea.
The bean itself once roasted and crushed becomes this delicious, pure cacao nibbles that are called cacao nibs. As cacao nibs are crushed, they release more and more of the cacao butter, and it begins to transform into paste. You can even divide it up again and extract a fatty contents of the bean, which is cacao butter. Cacao powder that you buy at the shops is essentially cacao paste with the cacao butter removed.
After a few of hours more of grinding, it transforms again into pure dark chocolate. At this point you can add more cacao butter to make a more 'milky' chocolate. The best chocolate makers in the world leave this process going for days getting a smoother and smoother.
Is it Cacaoa Or Cocoa?
So what's the difference between cacao and cocoa? Cacao is the ingredient, including the pods, the nibs, beans and paste. Cocoa on the other hand is the name given to the powder, which is used to make hot chocolates and cakes.
You could say that cacao and cocoa are derived from the same tree, but it is the way of processing which sets these two products apart. Cocoa is processed using the chemically-intensive “Dutch processing” method, which involves chemically processing and roasting the beans. This form of processing was developed in the early 19th century to reduce the characteristic bitter flavor and darken the colour. Raw cacao on the other hand isn’t submitted to temperatures over 42°C which helps to retain the nutritional content. It is usually purchased as a powder or as raw cacao nibs.
The Nutritional Benefits of Cacao
Rich in Antioxidants
Raw cacao retains high levels of flavonoids, which have been shown to boost heart health by reducing cholesterol levels, insulin resistance and blood pressure. Flavonoids are a kind of antioxidant, which protect the body from aging and disease. In fact, in raw cacao contains up to four times the antioxidants of traditional cacao powder—making it a food with the highest antioxidant score. It has a whopping 95,000 ORAC value per 100gms.
High in Essential Nutrients
If you’re looking to get more magnesium and iron in your diet—look no further. Cacao is the richest food source of both these nutrients. Magnesium is important to relieve muscle tension and anxiety—a reason why women crave chocolate every month! The cacao bean is also a good source of protein, potassium, essential fatty acids, calcium, chromium, zinc and sulfur.
Chronic and acute inflammation underlies the molecular basis of many chronic diseases. Research has shown that isolated flavanols and procyanidins fractions have been shown to temper the release of inflammatory cytokines and to promote the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-4 and interleukin-5. This explains why cacao is so beneficial for our heart and overall health.
The common myth that chocolate causes or contributes to acne has been reviewed for years. In fact, it has been established that perhaps the dairy and sugar component of chocolate is what contributes to breakouts not the cacao content. In dermatology, a cacao skin care product has many benefits for our skin including improved circulation and hydration.
The amino acid tryptophan is found naturally in cacao. It helps to enhance relaxation, boost mood and promote better sleep. This effect has been attributed to the conversion of tryptophan from cocoa into serotonin and the presence of some compounds in cacao that alleviate mood, thereby protecting against depression. Enhanced alertness and focus has also been associated with cacao consumption.
How to use raw cacao
Pure Chocolate Drink (Koko Samoa)
The Koko Samoa offers the world's only single-serve raw cacao drink pods. Simply pop one into a mug of hot water, and stir.
Cacao Husk Tea
Enjoy the incredible benefits of delicious chocolate tea - cacao husk tea, with aromas reminiscent of hot chocolate, and none of the guilt.
Our teas and tisanes are a single-origin cacao husk from plantations in Samoa. Its fine flavour profile comes from a rich history, volcanic soils, and lush green mountains surrounded by sea and sun. Our cacao is sustainably sourced, vegan friendly and 100% organic. We have taken what nature has created in one of the world's rarest types of cacao and bring you a delicious tea you'll love.
Ground cacao nibs can be used to replace store-bought cocoa powder to use in cakes, biscuits, slices and muffins. If you prefer to retain more of the antioxidants you can then make raw foods and include cacao to protein balls, raw brownies, tarts along with other healthy mouses.
Cereal topper or Breakfast Bowls
Add extra flavour and a nutritional boost to your traditional breakfast cereal or breakfast bowl with a sprinkling of raw cacao nibs. Add it to corn flakes, puffed rice, porridge, or a healthy muesli.
As a growing number of consumers become more aware of the health benefits of raw cacao, organic chocolate bars are becoming more popular on the market. Break into little pieces, eat with raw nuts, berries and an herbal tea as a mid-day treat.
That's the wonderful world of cacao
This is why we are so obsessed with these tiny little beans. Thanks for reading and please do share your cacao recipes, pics and videos with us as you take your own delicious and nutritious cacao adventures.
We leave you with a final word of cacao inspiration. Play with it, experiment by using different sweeteners, spices and/or other superfoods. Keep a backup stash for those rainy days and continue to share the chocolate love. Source sustainably, try it raw, without added sugars or dairy. Respect cacao and all of its benefits and it will bestow much pleasure upon you. Trust us, we know!