History and Origins
- The cacao tree is classified in the Sterculiaceae family and is a member of the Theobroma Genus.
- The cacao tree is native to the Amazon Basin. It was domesticated by the Olmecs and Mokaya (Mexico and Central America).
- It was consumed in spiritual ceremonies by pre-Columbian cultures along the Yucatán, including the Maya, and as far back as Olmeca civilization.
- The Olmec passed their cacao traditions to the Maya who passed them to the Aztecs who passed them to the conquistadors of the fifteenth century.
- In ancient Central American cultures cacao beans were actually used as money! When the Spanish came to understand the value of cacao beans, they called them Black Gold (oro negro)
- The earliest known archaeological evidence of cacao was in a village in the present-day Honduras, where pottery evidence of cacao use dates back to 2000BC
- Christopher Columbus is said to have brought the first cocoa (cacao) beans back to Europe from his fourth visit to the ‘New World’ between 1502 and 1504. However, far more exciting treasures on board his galleons meant the humble cocoa beans were ignored.
- It was the Europeans who eventually combined cacao with refined sugar. In 1928 a Dutch chemist called Coenraad Johannes Van Houten received a patent to make a low-fat powdered chocolate – it was Van Houten who created what became known as Cocoa powder (see below).
- The invention of the milk chocolate was due to the collective efforts the Swiss Chemist Henri Nestle (1814-1890) and Swiss chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter (1836-1919), the first milk chocolate bar was produced in 1879.
Cacao - v - Cocoa - Are they the same?
- Cacao and Cocoa are often used interchangeable, they both come from the same plant and are made from the same beans. Cocoa seems to have become the British slang term for cacao, however, there is a difference between them.
- Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing un-roasted cacao beans, this process keeps the living enzymes in the cacao.
- Cocoa is made from beans that have been roasted at extremely high temperature (tempered) – during this process some of the health and healing benefits are lost (but not all).
- The powdered form of cacao/cocoa has had the cacao/cocoa butter removed.
- Ceremonial grade cacao is very different from other forms of cacao for 3 main reasons
- It’s produced from Native Cacao Strains: native meaning it’s found growing naturally, in the wild, without human interaction/cultivation.
- Minimal processing: this means the beans still contain all or most of their natural compounds. Ceremonial cacao is NEVER tempered
- Intention: from tree to cup, ceremonial cacao is cultivated with intention, and in alignment with the Cacao Spirit. This means the lands, the farmers, the process, and the finished cacao are treated with compassion, love, respect, and reverence.
Health and related benefits
- Cacao is rich in Polyphenols, naturally occurring antioxidants, which are able to absorb free radicals (that come from pollution and toxins in our environment), which cause cell and tissue damage and can lead to diseases such as cancer.
- Cacao is also one of the highest plant-based sources of magnesium, the most deficient mineral in the Western world. Magnesium is important for a healthy heart, and helps turn glucose into energy enabling your brain to work with laser-sharp clarity and focus.
- Cacao is also high in Iron, potassium, Zinc and Calcium to name just a few
- Cacao may reduce high blood pressure by improving Nitric Oxide levels, this effect was first noted in the cacao-drinking island people of Central America, who had much lower blood pressure than their non- cacao -drinking mainland relatives
- Cacao can improve blood flow and reduce cholesterol, due to the Theobromine
- Cacao can have a really positive effect on mood, it is a great source of serotonin, phenylethylamine and dopamine – three well studied Neurotransmitters. It also contains Anandamide: In Sanskrit, Ananda means ‘bliss’, making this the ‘bliss chemical’. Anandamide is also a neurotransmitter, and is released naturally in the brain when we are feeling happy. Cacao also contains enzyme inhibitors, which inhibit the breakdown of anandamide in the body, thus increasing its uptake and contributing to sensations of ‘bliss’ associated with raw Cacao.