Cacao, or cocoa, is a fairly small, evergreen tree (the Theobroma cacao) that originated in South America and moved to Central America where it was first cultivated by the Mayans. The desirable fruit of the tree is its seed pods, which contain the seeds from which we today derive cocoa, cocoa butter, and chocolate. At one point in time, these highly desired seed pods were actually used as currency!
Cacao is rich in flavonoids, which are the pigments in the plant that, when consumed, become antioxidants which scavenge free radicals that damage cells, eventually causing to chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. One mug of cocoa has three times the antioxidants as the same amount of green tea. However, one should be careful consuming too much cocoa due to the other ingredients that are added to it which may counter act the benefits (cream, sugar, etc.). Chocolate and cocoa derive their health benefits from flavonoids which are plant pigments capable of acting as antioxidants to counteract some of the cellular damage that can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Cocoa powder has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow in humans. A cup of cocoa has almost three times the antioxidants of a cup of green tea, another drink renowned for its health benefits. With all of the antioxidant capabilities of cocoa it may seem like a no-brainer to add dark chocolate and cocoa to your diet. The less refined the cacao, the better, for many of the beneficial qualities are altered or destroyed with heat.
Some of the most potent cacao is found in cacao nibs. Cacao nib are basically raw chocolate, broken cacao beans that have been hulled, roasted and processed up to the point at which they are made into chocolate by grinding them and adding additional cocoa butter, sugar, milk and other flavorings. Just as some people enjoy roasted, chocolate covered coffee beans, cacao nibs are somewhat similar, only a bit crunchier and with a vaguely nutty flavor. They are quite high in flavonoids and lack any of the negatives that come with additional processing. While cacao nibs can be eaten alone, they also make a good substitute for chocolate chips in cookies, and can be added to chocolate in a great many chocolate recipes.
In addition to flavonoids, there are more than three hundred different compounds present in unprocessed cacao seeds. These include andamide, a compound frequently present in anti-depressant drugs for it's ability to increase sensations of pleasure and alertness, PEA, or phenylethylamine, a substance that increases alertness and focus, and which is released naturally (although in smaller amounts) by the adrenal gland. Magnesium is an important mineral that is present in cacao. Theobromine, a substance similar to caffeine, is another beneficial substance present in cacao, and is thought to decrease heart attacks.
There is a direct correlation between cacao consumption and longevity. A study published in 2006 by the Archives of Internal Medicine reported a fifty percent reduction in cardiovascular death (and a 47 percent reduction on overall death) for me who regularly consumed the most cocoa when compared with those who consumed the least.
Foods with a high concentration of cocoa are now thought to reduce blood pressure and to improve circulation, according to an analysis of already published studies that was conducted by the April 9, 2007 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. While there are possibly better means available to reduce blood pressure, surely there is not one tastier! Who could possibly object to a piece of dark chocolate a day as blood pressure "medicine"?
This exciting news about cacao and it's close kin, dark chocolate should be good news to chocolate lovers everywhere ... go ahead and indulge! Just be careful to choose the darkest, the least sweet, and the most lightly processed in order to enjoy the greatest health benefits. Bon Appétit!
I enjoyed reading your well presented list about cacao.
Very informative. Thanks
Cacao (Chocolate) is what I live for....H5
What a interesting list about Cacao trees. :) H5!
I have heard this before. Thanks for this list. Well done list.
select one here...