What Is Raw Cacao?
Raw cacao packs a punch when it comes to dense nutrients and powerful antioxidants. Cacao beans are the seeds of an Amazonian fruiting tree that when dried at low temperatures makes raw cacao. The cacao bean contains high levels of minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron as well as antioxidants. They also include feel-good chemicals theobromine and anandamide, and don’t forget energy lifting caffeine. Most people know about the slightly energizing and euphoric effects of chocolate, right? Well, many of the feel-good components also have powerful antioxidant capabilities that have been linked to positive health effects, including protecting the brain and nervous system from damage, reducing the risk of diabetes and promoting healthy sleep. The cardiovascular protective effects of raw cacao have also been studied extensively.
Cacao vs. Cocoa
What exactly is the difference between cacao and cocoa? (I mean, it’s just one letter.) Basically, cocoa is raw cacao put through a high-heat and chemical treatment process which removes some of the natural bitterness and darkens the color. Unfortunately the “Dutch process” of refining raw cacao beans into the chocolate most of us know also removes some of the natural antioxidants and other beneficial plant compounds. Bitter flavors are often markers of highly medicinal compounds in plants, which in this case makes your unrefined dark chocolate substantially more wholesome than processed cocoa. Another issue with processed cocoa is it is also potentially loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils, oh my!
Raw Cacao Q & A
Q: Where do I find it?
A: Most grocery stores with at least a small natural or organic section, definitely large health food store chains and organic cooperatives.
What forms do I look for?
Great question! You can find raw cacao powder, which you can use just like traditional cocoa powder in baking, smoothies or drinks. You can also find cacao in nibs, which are essentially less processed, small chunks of raw chocolate. And for real connoisseurs, there is cacao butter, which is a perfect addition for rich, scrumptious raw vegan desserts.
What Makes Fair Trade Cacao Better?
Many people understand the value of paying people a living wage for their products and services. It means that there is a sustainable future for that particular commodity. Due to the immense popularity of chocolate, much cacao is being farmed in ways that either damage the ecosystem or devalue the workers. By prioritizing “fair trade” products, consumers can vote with their most powerful voice – money – to support small-scale farmers and the earth. The best part is that heirloom cacao, for example Ecuadorian Arriba Nacional, actually provides a more complex flavor palette in combination with a more dense nutrient profile than their mono-cropped, industrially farmed cousins.
Raw Vegan Chocolate “Cheesecake” Recipe
Start to finish: 10 hours (20 minutes active)
1 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
4 tablespoons raw maca powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
½ cup melted coconut oil
¼ cup melted cacao butter
¼ cup raw cacao powder
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup maple syrup or honey
1 cup strawberries
Process almonds for the crust in a food processor until powdered. Add maca, maple syrup and salt. Process on pulse until a ball forms. Press into an oiled spring-form round cake pan or into the bottom of muffin tins (for individual cheesecakes).
Blend all ingredients for the filling in a Vitamix or other high-powered blender until completely smooth. Pour into muffin tins or cake pan. Place sliced strawberries in a pattern on top of the cake. Freeze the cake overnight. Allow to thaw for about 30 minutes before cutting. Store leftovers tightly sealed in the freezer. Enjoy, my chocoholics!