Who doesn’t love chocolate? Yet, we stay away from it because it has such a bad reputation. What if I told you that chocolate is actually incredibly good for you in its raw, unprocessed form. We run into problems when we start loading it up with added sugars, fats and chemical additives.
At the heart of chocolate is the cacao bean. Cacao beans have a variety of by-products:
• Butter is from the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. It is white in color and has a rich, buttery texture.
• Powder is made (ground) from the remaining part (cacao solids) once the cacao butter is removed. When whole cacao beans are cold-pressed, the oils (butter) separate from the fibre (solids) portion.
• Nibs are simply cacao beans that have been peeled and chopped up into edible pieces, much like chocolate chips without the added sugars and fats. Cacao nibs contain all of the same fiber, fat, and nutrients as the cacao bean.
• Paste/Liquor/Mass - comes from cacao nibs that have been slowly heated to preserve the nutrients and are melted into a bark. It contains the cacao butter and solids.
• Chocolate – a combination of cacao mass (solids and butter). Depending on the type and percentage of cacao, it may also have added ingredients such as milk products, sugar, spices, extracts, as well as extras such as fruit, nuts, seeds, etc.
Cacao is a highly nutritious ingredient. Not only is it a very good source or iron and magnesium, it also contains potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese and chromium. In addition, it is packed with fibre, protein, enzymes and is one of the top sources of antioxidants found in nature! Rich in phytonutrients, cacao in its unprocessed state, has a wide range of health benefits:
• Contains flavonoids that help stimulate nitric oxide production, reducing blood pressure and improving vessel elasticity. Cacao consumption has also been shown to reduce triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels as well as have anti-inflammatory properties.
• Flavonols in cacao may have positive effects on learning and memory by protecting brain cells and enhancing blood flow to brain.
• Cacao consumption has been shown beneficial in improving insulin resistance and glucose metabolism, making it a diabetic friendly nutrient.
• The proanthocyanidins derived from cacao help in inhibiting cataract formation occasionally induced by diabetes.
• Cacao contains compounds that aid in relaxing bronchial spasms and opening constricted tubes, helping people to breathe easy.
• It has antidepressant-like effects. Flavanols help to enhance mood and promote improved cognition. Phenylethylamine in cacao also helps in enhancing feelings of contentment.
Cacao vs. Cocoa vs. Carob – What’s the Difference?
1) Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can consume, which means it is raw and much less processed than cocoa powder or chocolate. The cacao fruit tree, also known as Theobroma Cacao, produces cacao pods which are cracked open to release cacao beans. They are then fermented, dried, and removed/extracted from the shells.
Note: There is approximately 40-45mg of caffeine in 2.5 Tbsps. of cacao. Coffee is said to have between 100-200mg per 8 oz. cup.
2) Cocoa is the heated/roasted form of cacao, it undergoes a higher temperature during processing. There are 2 types:
- Dutch-processed cocoa powder (dark cocoa) is cocoa powder that has been processed with an alkalized solution (potassium carbonate), making it less acidic and much richer in taste. It does not require baking soda when used in recipes as it has been alkalized.
- Regular cocoa powder retains a more acidic nature and bitter taste, and is used in baking recipes with baking soda. Although cocoa still has quite a bit of health benefits, it has far fewer than raw cacao. Due to its processing, it has less antioxidants, lower enzyme content and overall less nutritional value.
3) Carob does not come from the cacao plant. It is a tropical pod that contains a naturally sweet, edible pulp. Carob pod seeds are the source of "locust bean gum", an emulsifier and gelling agent. Carob is stimulant (caffeine and theobromine) free, a good source of fibre, low calorie, contains no-fat, a great source of calcium and has some antioxidant benefits.
Most use cocoa, cacao or carob powder interchangeably in smoothies, oatmeal, cookies, raw treats, muffins, hot chocolate, pancakes, bars or even stirred into coffee! Although it is bitter, try sweetening it naturally in recipes by using raw honey, stevia, xylitol or pure maple syrup! Also, try cacao nibs or carob chips instead of chocolate chips in recipes.
When looking to buy chocolate, keep in mind that the closer your cacao is to its natural raw state, the higher its nutritional value. In general, the darker the chocolate, the higher the cacao content. However, the higher the percentage cacao, the more bitter it is. To counteract the bitterness, most conventional chocolate is sweetened, so it's a matter of balancing nutritional benefit with taste or looking for a brand that uses healthier additional ingredients. Choose organic chocolate with a cocoa/cacao percentage of about 70 or higher. Like everything, moderation is key, but don’t be afraid to indulge in this nutritious ingredient every so often!
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.-30-