I have a deep deep love and admiration for the cacao bean. Cacao is a magical food that seems to immediately satisfy and comfort me. There's something about a dripping chocolate sauce, or a spongy chocolate cake that calls to me. Perhaps you feel the same way. I dedicate this week's Focus blog post on the magical cacao bean. Read up on some of our favorite recipes with cacao here.
Cacao (Theombroma cacao)
Although not all cacao is roasted, it is all fermented, thus reducing its bitterness. Full of antioxidants and phenyl ethylamine-- the chemical found in the brains of people in love-- it's no wonder people all over the world are attracted to chocolate. Chocolate fruit looks somewhat similar to a small papaya. It's the beans on the inside of the pod that we ferment and use in confections, potions, and brews. Cacao is available in whole beans, nibs (bits of the full bean), and powder (ground up nibs) as well as cacao butter (the extracted fat solids). Theombroma literally means "Food of the Gods". Human use of cacao dates back more than 5,000 years, and evidence suggests that it was used by the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec people of Mexico shamanistically and ritualistically as well as a form of currency - and of course, as food! Raw cacao is one of the most complex known food sources, containing an estimated 1,200 chemical constituents including anandamide (bliss chemical), arginine (needed for proper cell division and the healing of wounds), dopamine (a neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure system of the brain), serotonin (a neurotransmitter needed for mood modulation), tryptophan (a precursor for serotonin and melatonin), and phenylethylamine (boosts our ability to be alert and pay attention and is noticeably abundant in the brains of happy people). In addition, cacao contains Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors, which allow more of these and other neurotransmitters to circulate in the brain). Raw cacao is an incredibly rich source of magnesium, which is needed for the heart to function well (it is the primary mineral missing when heart problems occur). Research has shown cacao also to be extraordinarily high in antioxidants - nearly twice that of red wine and three times what is found in green tea.