As far as I can recall, I’ve only ever met one person who didn’t like chocolate … for most of us it’s hard to consider life without it! Over the years, we’ve heard the good, the bad and the ugly about this unique food … so I thought I’d share my gut feel.
There is little doubt that cacao which forms the basis of most chocolate, has plenty going for it. Powdered raw cacao is made from dried & ground beans from the cocoa tree and has been shown in numerous studies to be rich in plant polyphenols and flavonols with strong antioxidant activity. In particular, compounds known as catechins have been shown to have a possible role in helping protect against heart disease and cancer. There are also components in cacao that have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and cardioprotective effects, and improve the bioavailability of nitric oxide, which improves blood pressure, platelet function and fluidity of blood. In addition, it contains a number of psychoactive substances including serotonin and phenylethylamine which control mood, and offer the “antidepressant” effect of chocolate. And if that’s not enough, cacao contains caffeine, theophylline and theobromine which are all stimulants with a number of possible performance enhancing effects.
On a spiritual level, cacao was considered a sacred, elite, and ritualistic plant in the Mayan and Aztec cultures for centuries. Cacao ceremonies were important religious rituals for the ancient Native Mesoamerican cultures, and were an important part of birth, marriage and death celebrations. .
So I feel pretty confident that raw, organic, fair trade cacao is a highly nourishing food for the body & soul. However, it is fairly unpalatable on its own, and it’s what we blend this with to make chocolate that is the game changer. Commercially, chocolate is usually made from cocoa (the roast version of cacao), cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, sugar or alternative sweetener, emulsifier (lecithin) and flavour (vanilla, fruit, spices, or artificial flavours etc.). Like most foods, the more processed it is, the less nutritious it becomes … so the more ingredients are heat treated, the more sugar or artificial sweeteners, artificial flavours, colours and preservatives that are added, and the more excessive glossy packaging is used, the further we move away from a nutritious food toward a product that is highly addictive and plays havoc with our immune & metabolic systems.
However, if we hand make our chocolate at a low temperature using organic, raw cacao and cacao butter, natural flavourings like vanilla, ginger, nuts, tahini, essential oils, spices and a little raw honey or coconut nectar to balance the bitterness of the cacao powder … then I’m a big fan!