Chocolate abounds. So many brands, so many varieties and mixtures: with chilis, bacon, salt, vanilla, nuts, berries, orange peel, and more! It could be said that chocolate is one of the few truly global food sensations, loved by many millions. But I wonder how many of us know what makes it amazing, what “secret ingredient” elevates it from being a mere food to a semi-divine delicacy with healthful properties.
Food of the Gods
All chocolate is made from cacao beans (also called cocoa beans). Everything good you have ever heard about chocolate is a product of this one ingredient. The sugars, dairy, and chemicals in many popular chocolate brands are just extras; cacao contains all the magic. In 1753 Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish scientist, decided cacao was so amazing, so important, that he named the genus and species of the tree theobroma cacao, or “Cacao, the food of the gods”. The passage of time seems to have justified his naming. Today we know that raw cacao (as opposed to cooked chocolate) may have the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food on earth, is a top source (perhaps #1) of magnesium, quite rich in iron, chromium, manganese, zinc, copper, vitamin C, dietary fiber, serotonin, anandamide, and theobromine. Some of those may be unfamiliar to most of us. We can sum it up by saying real chocolate (raw cacao) is a nutritious, heart-healthy food that can make us feel good and maybe even help prevent tooth decay!
The addition of refined sugars and chemical flavors, paired with the use of heat and chemical treatments (done to nearly all commercial brands of chocolate) destroys many of the healthy compounds just mentioned, causes the omega fatty acids to turn rancid, and essentially just bastardizes something better left as nature grew it. So why is it done? Unsurprisingly, a big part of the answer is that it’s much more profitable to produce adulterated industrial chocolate than it is to carefully harvest and protect a large crop of raw cacao beans. But, lest we lay all the blame on the manufacturer, another big part of the answer is that the european market couldn’t handle the bitterish taste of real cacao, they wanted it sweetened. As an aside, “milk chocolate” came forth in 1879 when Swiss chocolate manufacturer Daniel Peter teamed up with Swiss chemist Henri Nestle, ultimately resulting in the unscrupulous corporate juggernaut that is Nestle today.
How Now Brown Cacao?
Many people are so unused to bitter flavors, so hooked on sweet, that raw cacao all by itself is a tough sell. I’ve recommended it to many clients for various reasons and between us we have come up with some great ways to enjoy it. Here are four fantastic ideas to get the food of the gods into your diet with pleasure.
- Dip the beans in raw honey. There’s no shame in needing some sweet, it’s all about source. Eat a few honey-glazed cacao beans then take a taste of a mass-produced chocolate bar. You’ll never go back.
- Sprinkle crushed beans (“nibs”) on yogurt. Adds crunch, taste, fiber, and nutrients! If you were to cover some quality vanilla ice cream with it, you might not leave the house for a while.
- Make your own trail mix with raw cacao beans/nibs, goji berries, cashews, almonds, and whatever else you enjoy.
- Use cacao powder (raw, not mass-market cocoa that has been heat-treated) in your favorite drinks. This can take your banana/broccoli smoothie to a new level and your coffee to places it has never been before. One tip: a blender or shaker is extremely helpful in getting it to mix-in.
Of course, I invite all dark chocolate fans to give some naked, raw beans a try. Welcome to the real deal.
- Superfoods, by David Wolfe
Lionel is an author, speaker, health and wellness coach. He lives in New York but works with people across the country to raise awareness and create life-affirming habits. He can be contacted through his coaching site, LionHeartedLiving.com