Sure, you may already be aware that chocolate comes from cacao beans, but how much do you really know about whole cacao? If you’ve visited our site before, you probably know that we’re crazy for cacao – and not just because of chocolate. Whole cacao is a true superfood, a powerhouse of nutrition and wellness benefits that can be enjoyed in so many different ways – we just can’t help ourselves from sharing our love of cacao with the rest of the world! There’s a reason cacao has been known for centuries as “the food of the gods” and we figure that if it’s good enough for the gods, it’s good enough for us.
The true story of cacao begins with Theobroma cacao, a tree indigenous to South and Central America that produces cacao fruit, the beans of which eventually became the chocolate that winds up on our store shelves and, ultimately, in our desserts. But long before there was chocolate, there was xocolatl – the ancient Nahuatl word used to describe the “bitter water” that the Aztec and Maya used to make from the beans of the cacao fruit and drink during ritual occasions. From the very beginning, these ancient civilizations knew that cacao was something special: one of the biggest superfoods on the planet.
Incorporating whole cacao into your regular diet is easy! There is so much more to whole cacao than just chocolate, and cacao products are a great addition to any number of recipes. You can make baked goods or breads from cacao shell flour, which is naturally gluten-free. You can blend cacao nibs into your morning smoothie or stir into a bowl of yogurt for a satisfying breakfast. Similarly, dried cacao fruit pulp can be sprinkled into granola or simply mixed into a dried fruit and nut mixture for an easy snack and fresh cacao fruit pulp is perfect to create energy frozen granola bowls. Some chefs even top grilled meats with a little pinch of cacao nibs – go ahead and try it for yourself!
Cacao beans are the innermost part of the cacao fruit, which grows on a tree called Theobroma cacao. Each tree produces a number of cacao pods, inside of which are anywhere from 20-60 seeds – the beans – that are embedded in a white pulp. While the cacao beans are the most widely used part of the cacao pod, the entirety of the cacao pod is both edible and extremely healthy. The skin can be ground up and made into cacao shell flour, while the white pulp that surrounds the beans can be used to produce cacao water, juice, jelly, and ice cream.
Antioxidants are one of the most powerful resources we have in the fight against inflammation and disease caused by free radicals. Free radicals are the result of a modern lifestyle that has included exposure to pollution and processed foods; they can cause serious harm to our cells and are believed to be the root cause of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease. However, antioxidants have been proven to repair the damage caused by free radicals and to prevent any further damage from occurring. Since raw cacao has three times as many antioxidants per serving as 100 grams of blueberries, that makes it a true powerhouse in the fight against damage-causing free radicals.
“Superfood” is a term used to describe food that has above-average health benefits due to high nutrient density. Superfoods are mostly plant-based, and they tend to be rich in things like antioxidants, healthy fats and omega-3s, fiber, and phytochemicals. All of these nutrients are vital to maintaining good physical health and warding off many modern illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. While some dieticians and other experts claim that the term “superfood” is largely a term used in marketing, they do agree that consuming high quantities so-called superfoods is an essential part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.