For centuries, the Spanish have referred to cacao as “black gold”—and with good reason. In recent years, cacao has come into the spotlight for its health promoting properties in addition to its ability to elevate our mood and increase our focus and attention. However, a lot of confusion still remains regarding the difference between chocolate, cacao and cocoa. In short, cacao ischocolate—the purest form chocolate you can consume, raw and unprocessed. Cacao fits the definition of what are commonly referred to as “superfoods,” having one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of all foods—nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate and more than 20 times the antioxidants found in blueberries. Furthermore, cacao is also extremely high in magnesium, an essential mineral that dilates blood vessels, relaxes skeletal and smooth muscle, and leads to feelings of mental and physical relaxation and calm.
But what is cacao anyway? The cacao tree, Theobroma Cacao, produces cacao pods that are cracked open to release cacao beans. Interestingly, the scientific name for the cacao tree comes from the Greek words “theo”—meaning “God”, and “broma”—meaning “drink,” due to the fact that the Incas considered cacao the drink of the Gods. Cacao nibs, what we use in our chocolate vanilla bitter, Amores Melipona, are simply cacao beans that have been chopped up into edible pieces, much like chocolate chips without the added sugar and artificial ingredients.
Raw cacao contains over 300 different chemical compounds. Studies have shown that cacao affects your emotions and mood by raising levels of serotonin, anadamide—a molecule that leads to feelings of euphoria, and phenylethylamine (PEA) that causes endorphins to be released. Serotonin, anadamide and PEA all, biochemically, act as aphrodisiacs and improve libido which is probably why chocolate is the quintessential Valentine’s Day gift. Cacao also contains flavanols which act as potent antioxidants protecting against cardiovascular disease, in addition to over 700 compounds that are thought to help reduce LDL or “bad” cholesterol. Cacao can also thin blood and prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, and improve vascular function and glucose metabolism. Finally, cacao is the highest plant-based source of iron.
Get your cacao in this beautifully warm, rich and complex bitters here - the Strongwater Amores: