It's probably because it's so cold and wintry here in Chicago that we find ourselves dreaming of equatorial weather. This is the place where the sun and soil align to produce Theobroma cacao trees and where our exploration of cacao begins. For 5,000 years, South America has been home to these domesticated trees that produce one of nature's most precious gifts: raw cacao.
Commonly referred to as the "Food of the Gods" in Aztec culture, the raw cacao bean is known as an ancient superfood once reserved for the royal elite. In the ancient world, cacao was a form of currency and the mystique of this plant has been exceptionally well documented since the beginning of the written word.
As we have continued to explore new ways to engage with ingredients, we have been inspired to get closer to raw cacao, dig deeper into its nutritional assets, and see how we could take advantage of every part of its goodness through our luxury chocolates.
Here at Vosges Haut-Chocolat, we utilize raw cacao in all of our Cacao Wellness offerings, which address a variety of healthful goals: nutrition, mental well-being, and self-care. By investigating ideas of science through food, each of these items has the ability to create transformative experiences.
What is Raw Cacao?
You may ask, what exactly is raw cacao and why all the fuss about it? Raw cacao is an unprocessed version of the cacao bean, roasted at lower temperatures and then milled. By keeping temperatures low, the cacao is able to retain all of the nutrients that make it such a treasure for chocolate consumption.
While the result is raw chocolate that also holds onto a bit of its inherent bitterness, it also has 60-90% of the antioxidants that would be lost should it be processed using methods developed in Europe in the 19th century to mellow the flavor of the cacao.
What are the Health Benefits of Raw Cacao?
Full of Antioxidants
As we explore the natural raw cacao health benefits, one of its most impressive attributes is the number of antioxidants it houses. Raw cacao nibs contain more of them than any of the other antioxidant-rich favorites: blueberries, goji berries, red wine and pomegranates. It is one free-radical fighting goodie, benefiting the mind, skin and body.
Beneficial for Gut Health
Another health benefit of raw cacao nibs is also a feast for your gut microbes. Beneficial bacteria that reside in the digestive tract ferment both the antioxidants and the fiber in chocolate. It aids in healthy digestion while reducing the risk of digestive problems. You get a treat, and your gut does, too.
Improve Blood Flow and Reduce Risk of Diabetes
The flavonoid variants found in cacao help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and prevent blood clots. At the same time, these flavonoids help to increase insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes.
Improve Brain Function
Cacao also has one of the highest concentrations of magnesium in nature. One of the most deficient minerals in the Western world, magnesium turns glucose into energy, making the brain sharper, more focused and clearer.
Cacao contains anandamide, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain that binds to the THC receptors. It's known as the "bliss molecule" (named after "Ananda", the Sanskrit word for "bliss.") Anandamide is considered an endocannabinoid - a substance produced within the body that binds to cannabinoid receptors. So, it's natural that we crave a dark chocolate bar or a satisfying cup of hot chocolate when we're feeling stressed. By consuming cacao, our minds are calmed, our bodies are relaxed and our moods are enhanced. This allows for improved concentration and boosts of energy. All of this from one little raw cacao bean!
Healthier Alternative to Coffee
Cacao is rich in theobromine, a long-lasting stimulant more mellow than caffeine and without the 'caffeine crash'; effect, making it a healthier alternative to coffee. Theobromine has a similar structure to caffeine, but the difference is that instead of being a nervous system stimulant like coffee, it dilates the cardiovascular system, resulting in the opening up of the blood vessels and a sense of alertness and relaxation at the same time. Well-being and happiness are also aided by the neurotransmitters found in cacao, contributing to a natural, happy buzz that helps alleviate depression.
Keeps the Body and Skin Healthy
Often used in confectionery kitchens is cocoa butter, also called theobroma oil, an edible fat extracted from the cocoa bean. Cocoa butter adds richness to chocolates. In wellness circles, phytochemicals in the cocoa butter keep the body and skin healthy. With all of these attributes, cacao is the perfect base for exploring how chocolate and wellness can coincide.
From it, we have derived our purest collection to date: Pure Plant. At the core of the Pure Plant Collection is the challenge to us, to use our Lab at the Chocolate Temple as a place to create chocolates that highlight the health benefits of raw cacao beans and attempt to use all of the parts of the cacao pod as a way to celebrate its natural superfood perfection. Rather than discarding parts of the pod, we came up with innovative ways to flavor our chocolate with it. Using superior sourced ingredients, we strive to pass along the bounties of nature through this new collection of Pure Plant candy bars.
Looking for more information regarding the health benefits of raw cacao? Follow the link provided to learn about chocolate meditation practices!