Our first week in Costa Rica my husband and I had the opportunity to do a chocolate tour! It was at a lovely place called Reina’s Chocolate and was run by Reina and her husband, Ron. Throughout the tour we tasted 16+ types and flavors of chocolate (including sipping chocolate, chocolate tea, and my favorite, lime/sea salt/tequila flavored chocolate)!
Cacao has long been boasted as a superfood, a food with significantly higher nutritional value compared to other foods. In fact, polyphenols in cacao contribute to about 12-18% of the dry weight of the whole bean! Cacao (pronounced cu-COW) is not to be confused with “cocoa”, which many of us grew up drinking in our Hershey’s hot chocolate. Cacao, on the other hand, refers to the mature fruit of the cacao tree, which can be consumed raw and is a serious superfood! It grows best in tropical regions near the equator. About 70% is grown in West Africa, while the rest is cultivated in other humid climates such as Brazil and Ecuador.
Unfortunately, typical cocoa powder and chocolate have been chemically processed (to make every cacao bean taste the same) and roasted, which destroys a large amount of the antioxidants and anti-aging flavanols. Cacao is also very heavily sprayed with pesticides, so choosing organic is best when able.
the meaning behind ‘fairtrade’
Growing cacao is very labor intensive and requires hard manual work. Within the global value chain, most of the money is made after the beans have reached the Global North, resulting in cacao farmers and workers to live on less than $1.25 per day. The low income of farmers often leads to unfair treatment and wages of workers, child labor (because it is cheap), poor working conditions, and environmental degradation. For these reasons, cacao has grown to be one of the most prominent Fairtrade products available. But what exactly does this mean? When you purchase Fairtrade cocoa and chocolate you are supporting the following:
- Cocoa farmers are paid a Fairtrade Minimum Price for their goods, which acts as a safeguard when market prices drop.
- Farmers receive a Fairtrade Premium, which the invest in projects of their choice including, replacing old trees and investing in better facilities.
- Pushing to establish living incomes for small-scale farmers.
- Fairtrade standards prohibit child labor.
5 benefits of raw organic cacao
Cacao is seen as a sacred plant in South America and has been used for thousands of years in the Mayan culture for medicinal, spiritual and ceremonial purposes. The word cacao translates as “heart blood”, accentuating the importance it occupies in their culture. It is revered for its many health benefits, such as those listed below.
- It Contains Theobromine. This natural compound is a known stimulant, and ingestion of it can provide both a physical and mental energy boost. It differs from caffeine in that its effects are more mild and longer lasting.
- May Help Keep Bowels Regular. One serving of cacao nibs (3 Tbsp) contains 8 grams of dietary fiber! Keep in mind the daily recommendation is at least 25 grams for women, and 38 grams for men. Check out this post for more info on fiber + how to increase your intake.
- Full of magnesium. Magnesium is essential for cardiovascular health, blood sugar control, and bone formation. It also promotes relaxation and better sleep. Stress increases the amount of magnesium our body needs (because it increases the amount we lose in our urine) so no wonder we are always craving it! The majority of the population is in fact, deficient in this mineral.
- 20 Times the Antioxidants of Blueberries! Yes, 20 times! It has an ORAC score of 95,500 per 100 grams whereas blueberries score 4,669. ORAC scores measure the ability of antioxidants to absorb free radicals (produced from pollution and toxins in our environment), which cause cell and tissue damage and can lead to diseases such as cancer.
- Excellent source of iron. Cacao contains 7.3 mg of iron per 100 gram serving, making it one of the highest plant sources! This compares to mussels and beef which contain 6.6 and 3.2 grams, respectively. Because iron from plant foods (non-heme iron) is not absorbed as well as iron from animal sources (heme-iron), combine cacao with vitamin C to maximize the benefit and absorption — oranges, grapefruit, kiwifruit or strawberries are some great examples.
ways to eat cacao
- Brew up a Superfood Hot Cocoa. One of my favorite ways to incorporate cacao into my day. I use dairy-free milk (make sure it is carrageenan free) and a small amount of honey or local maple syrup to sweeten it up — check out this recipe to try!
- Pop into a Smoothie. Add 1-2 Tbs of raw cacao powder or cacao nibs to your favorite recipe. This Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie is amazing post-workout!
- Nom on a Bar. Ideally choose a bar with 70% or higher cacao, meaning the ratio of added sugar is lower. Break into squares and enjoy with some herbal tea, dried fruit, and nuts.
*Tip from Costa Rica: Don’t chew it! Let the square melt in your mouth to fully enjoy the flavor.
- Whip Up Some Chocolate Avocado Pudding. Who else likes puddng?! Store bought brands are loaded with chemical including artificial flavors and coloring, hydrogenated oils, carrageenan, and worst of all — poor quality chocolate. Try out this whole foods recipe for a healthy swing on chocolate pudding!
Chocolate Avocado Pudding
- 2 avocadoes
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp raw honey or maple syrup
- 4 dates (soaked overnight or boil in water for 20 minutes)
- 2 Tbsp raw cacao powder
- 1 Tbsp peanut butter (may also use almond butter)
- 1 banana (ripe)
- 1 tsp cinnamon
Combine the ingredients in a blender and whirl on high until well blended into a thick, creamy pudding.
Divide pudding into 2 servings. Enjoy!
Will keep 2 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer.
Recipe inspired by Marni Wasserman
Have you ever tried raw cacao? How did you enjoy it?