What’s the deal with cacao? Has half the world got their ‘a’s and ‘o’s mixed up? Or is it a case of you say tom-ay-to, I say tom-ah-to; you say cah-kayo, I say co-co? Certainly in the powdered form they look the same. And they smell and taste pretty darn similar too. So why does everyone rave about the health benefits of cacao but no one has much to say about good old fashioned cocoa? What’s the difference? And what are the health benefits of cacao?
So to get back to basics, cacao and cocoa are derived from the same plant, specifically the Theobroma cacao tree which is native to South America (pictured above) which produces cacao pods full of cacao beans.
What is the difference between cacao and cocoa?
The difference lies in the method of processing. Raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing (yes just like the best quality olive oils!) unroasted cacao beans which removes the cacao ‘butter’ without subjecting them to extreme temperatures and processing. They are considered to be ‘raw’ and a ‘superfood’ due to their high nutritional content. Cocoa on the other hand is produced by roasting the beans at very high temperatures (thus they are not ‘raw’) which changes their molecular structure and apparently reduces the nutritional content. Cold pressed lamb anyone?
What are the health benefits of cacao?
According to a great paleohacks blog the health benefits of cacao include:
- High levels of anti-oxidants which protect your cells against oxidative damage from free radicals (rad!!)
- Mood and cognitive performance boosting
- Lowers blood pressure
- Protects your heart
- Regulates insulin levels
- Rich in nutrients
I don’t know about you but I’m sold!! Of course therein lies the catch! Gram for gram, raw organic cacao powder will inevitably cost more than your standard box of Cadbury Bournville cocoa powder! However, market competition has seen prices of ‘health foods’ reduce of late, so you can actually find a reasonably priced 500g bag of cacao in most supermarkets for around $12. Well worth it for the health benefits and that extra richness of flavour in my opinion.
Looking for chocolatey inspiration? Here are 3 super simple recipes perfect for spring that will have you ingesting all those fabulous nutrients on a daily basis!
Peanut Butter Bliss Balls
Is it politically incorrect to love peanuts these days? Well I’m sorry (I really am, you are missing out!) but if you can’t eat peanuts this recipe is definitely not for you! But if you are like me and consider a handful of delicious salty peanuts to be one of life’s great guilty pleasures, then these yummy bliss balls are up your alley!
- 110g medjoul dates
- 20g unsalted peanuts
- 20g 100% peanut butter
- 7g raw organic cacao powder
- 2 generous pinches of good quality sea salt (or to taste)
- dessicated coconut for rolling
Note all measures are approximate and can be changed to suit your taste (ie. it’s not like baking where if you don’t measure properly your cake won’t rise) so don’t be afraid to make them your own!
- Process peanuts into small pieces/chunks and set aside
- Process dates, peanut butter and salt until it forms a thick paste (you may have to break it up in a bowl and re-process a few times depending on the power of your food processor).
- Add the peanuts and process briefly until combined.
- Roll into balls and coat in dessicated coconut.
Chocolate Breakfast Smoothie
Looking for a way to have chocolate for breakfast without, well, eating chocolate? This smoothie for one is full of superfood goodness and tastes too good to be true (except it is true!)
- Handful of kale (minus the tough stalks)
- Half a frozen banana
- Handful of frozen blueberries (affordable bags available at your local supermarket)
- 1/4 of an avocado
- Tablespoon of chia seeds
- Generous tablespoon of raw organic cacao powder
- 1 cup of coconut water
Blend in a good blender (or even better in your Magic Bullet so you can enjoy straight from the blending cup!) and enjoy!!
Simple Hot Chocolate
There is still enough chill in the evenings to enjoy snuggling up with a mug of this decadent hot choccie and a good book! Yes dates have sugar in them. However, they have a lot more nutritional value than plain old white processed sugar! Too simple for anything more than the one liner below!
Heat 1 cup of your milk of choice on the stove top or in the microwave, blend with 2 medjoul dates and a generous tablespoon of cacao powder until smooth, frothy and divine!