Whole Cacao = Whole Wellness

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.

Cacao Basics

An ancient treasure

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.

  • ? Did you know? Cacao’s genus name, Theobroma cacao, is Greek for “food of the gods.” You can believe us when we say that we’re not just making it up!
  • (: Fun Fact Whole Cacao is also one of only two foods to contain phenethylamine (or PEA), also known as “the love drug” because it encourages the release of the same endorphins we experience when we fall in love. The only other food to contain PEA is spirulina, a kind of algae.
  • Two worlds collide
    • While the indigenous civilizations of Central and South America had found many purposes for cacao – including using cacao beans as currency! – it wasn’t until the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 16th century that cacao began its transformation into the modern chocolate product that we know today. In 1519 the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes landed on the coast of what is today Mexico, and as the Spaniards began to conquer and plunder the continent in search of riches, word traveled to the Aztec emperor Montezuma II that a vessel full of men had arrived in Tenochtitlán. Possibly believing Cortés to be Quetzalcoatl – an Aztec deity who legend claimed would one day return to Tenochtitlán bearing “all the treasures of Paradise” – Montezuma II greeted Cortés and his men with gifts, including large quantities of cacao.
  • A worldwide phenomenon
    • The Spaniards took the cacao with them on further expeditions, leading to the spread of cacao trees to regions like West Africa, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Once back in Europe, Europeans began to use sugar cane and spices cultivated in the Caribbean to sweeten and flavor the cacao, thus creating the first modern incarnations of chocolate. The superfood benefits of whole cacao remained unknown and relatively unexplored until the twentieth century, when advances in science and technology let us get a glimpse into the true wellness potential of whole cacao.
  • Food of the gods
    • Today, we have a better understanding of the health benefits of cacao than ever before – and yet, the focus still remains largely on chocolate. That’s why we feel so passionately about sharing the story of cacao with the world, and for finding creative and delicious ways to bring this “food of the gods” into the lives of everyday people.

Breaking It Down

  • (: There’s more to cacao than just beans! Whole cacao consists of three parts, each with its own unique culinary possibilities and rich in superfood benefits. Cacao beans – the innermost part of the whole cacao fruit – are the most well-known, but the shell and the pulp are just as valuable.
  • ? A sustainable superfood A sad reality of the chocolate business is that more than 70% of the cacao fruit is wasted by cacao growers – large and small – who use only the beans and then discard the rest. Our love of whole cacao also stems from our love of the planet. By crafting recipes that make use of all three components of the whole cacao fruit, we’re able to fulfill our commitment to environmental sustainability.


  • The shell
    • The shell of the whole cacao fruit can be ground down to make cacao shell flour. This flour can then be added to different flours to create a variety of healthy culinary creations, including in baked goods, breads, and pastries. Cacao shell flour is rich in theobromine, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, which make it a much healthier option than traditional flour. It is also gluten free!
  • The pulp
    • The white pulp found on the inside of the whole cacao is a really delicious and unique part of the whole cacao. While most cacao growers use only a small portion of the pulp in the fermentation process of the beans most of the pulp is discarded. However, the pulp itself has both culinary unique qualities and nutrition functional values! Cacao pulp can be used in any number of ways, including to make smoothies, granola bowls, jams, jellies, ice cream, and cacao water, a hydrating and healthy beverage that is also rich in antioxidants.
  • The beans
    • The most famous part of the whole cacao – the beans – are typically used to make chocolate. However, cacao beans can also be eaten by themselves in the form of cacao nibs, which are simply fermented and roasted cacao beans that have been crushed up during the winnowing process of chocolate making. Cacao nibs have all of the same health benefits of cacao beans and can be eaten on their own, or added to yogurt, a smoothie, baked treats, or mixed into granola.

Functional Compounds and Wellness Benefits

  • (: Fun FactThough cacao originated from South America, West Africa is currently the world’s leading producer of cacao.

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  • It may sound too good to be true, but whole cacao may actually help boost metabolism and aid in weight loss. Consuming just a small amount of dark chocolate can help you stick to your diet and lose weight because it elevates your mood and keeps you from returning to the refrigerator in search of something else that’ll satisfy your appetite.
  • Whole cacao is truly a superfood in every sense of the word. Its health benefits are almost too numerous to list – but don’t worry, we’ll give it a try!
  • King of Antioxidants
    • Perhaps the biggest health benefit of whole cacao is that it is absolutely loaded with antioxidants, and especially flavonols – more by weight than any other food, in fact. Antioxidants help protect against and repair the damage done to our bodies by molecules called free radicals, which damage our cells and cause inflammation and serious illness, including cancer and heart disease. 100 grams of cacao nibs alone have an ORAC value of 62,000 μ mol TE– that makes cacao nibs over 13 times more powerful in the fight against disease-causing free radicals than blueberries. Incorporating more antioxidants into our diets is a key way to fight against free radicals and maintain our overall health and wellness.
  • Plant-Based Nutrients
    • Whole cacao is rich in plant-based essential nutrients like potassium and magnesium. Potassium is one of the most important minerals in our bodies; it helps to regulate the nervous system, promotes good blood circulation, and decreases the likelihood of strokes, kidney stones, and osteoporosis. Next to potassium, magnesium is one of the most powerful minerals in the human body – it literally repairs our DNA, converts food into energy, and is essential to muscle health. Whole cacao is a great source of both potassium and magnesium; for example, just one ounce (28g) of dehydrated cacao pulp contains 60% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium. An ounce of cacao berry flour – useful in baked goods, beverages, or bars – contains 35% of the recommended daily intake of potassium.
  • Essential Vitamins
    • Cacao is a great source of B vitamins, which help make sure the body functions the way it should by helping to convert food into cell energy. B vitamins also help regenerate blood cells, and maintain the overall health of our cells.
  • Balanced Microbiome
    • The gut microbiome is the catch-all term for all of the healthy bacteria that resides in our gastrointestinal tract. The gut plays a major role in the health and wellness of the whole body – it is now believed that an out-of-balance gut microbiome is at the root of many modern illnesses, including autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis. Cacao is a superior source of dietary fibers that can help maintain the balance of your gut microbiome; just two tablespoons of cocoa powder can supply you with 3.6 grams of dietary fiber, which is 14% of the recommended daily value for men and 9% for women.
  • Vital Minerals
    • Whole cacao is an excellent source of copper and iron. Copper helps maintain the health of our bones, blood vessels, and nerves, and also assists in the body’s absorption of iron. Together with copper, iron maintains our immune system, and it also promotes energy, focus, and gastrointestinal health. 90 grams of pure cacao fruit pulp contains 10% of the recommended daily intake of copper, and just 28 grams of dehydrated cacao fruit pulp provides us with 6% of our recommended daily intake of iron.

All About Theobromine

  • ? The small molecule that packs a big punch Theobromine is a naturally-occurring molecule that is found in very high quantities in whole cacao and products made from the cacao fruit, including chocolate. The cacao bean has the highest concentrations of theobromine, with cacao berry flour clocking in at a whopping 577mg of theobromine per gram. Theobromine serves as a natural alternative to caffeine because of its ability to boost energy without any of the negative side effects of traditionally caffeinated beverages, like jitters, withdrawals, or energy crashes.

  • ! A healthier alternative to coffee: Cacao beans can be roasted and brewed into a beverage that can serve as a healthier alternative to your morning cup of coffee. If you’re someone who finds it hard to get going in the morning without your normal cup of joe, but you don’t like feeling dependent upon caffeine and the negative side effects caffeine can induce, replacing coffee with a cacao-ccino just might be the solution.
  • ? Did someone say Superfood? Like other products that come from whole cacao, cacao flour is rich in a number of health benefits that make it a true superfood.
  • Energy Pioneer
    • While many people turn to coffee for a boost of energy to help them get through the day, the high amounts of caffeine found in coffee can also have some undesirable side effects. The theobromine present in whole cacao acts as a stimulant similar to caffeine, but without the negative side effects like the jitters or energy crash. Many people describe the pleasant and sustainable energy boost from theobromine to the feeling of a good night’s sleep.
  • Heart Healthy
    • Whole cacao has been shown to improve cardiovascular and respiratory function, and can even soothe coughing and irritation caused by asthma. It has also been shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol in middle-aged adults at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Lowers Blood Pressure
    • Theobromine acts as a natural vasodilator, meaning that it widens the blood vessels to allow blood to pass through more freely. Clinical trials have shown that regular consumption of theobromine-enriched cacao resulted in a significant decrease in systolic blood pressure, while those who consumed a placebo did not. The high levels of theobromine in whole cacao have been shown to lower blood pressure in as little as one hour after ingestion.
  • Soothes Inflammation
    • Part of what makes the whole cacao so beneficial in soothing the symptoms of asthma is its ability to fight inflammation. Inflammation is associated with many modern diseases and ailments, including cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. The anti-inflammatory properties of cacao are partly due to theobromine, which evidence suggests decreases inflammation-causing C-reactive proteins (CRP).
  • Fights Tooth Decay
    • If this particular cacao benefit seems too good to be true, remember that we’re talking raw cacao here, not sugar-loaded candy bars. A recent study of human molars showed that theobromine protects and remineralizes the enamel of our teeth even better than fluoride and makes teeth less vulnerable to bacterial erosion that can cause cavities and tooth decay.

Whole Cacao: Questions and Answers

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.