Cacao, Theobroma cacao, has a long history of medicinal use throughout Mesoamerica and South America.
The native people of the Americas passed forward the merits of cacao with oral histories, pottery, stonework, and colored documents that chronicled its use.
The Mayan believed the kakaw, cacao, had divine origins. According to Mayan legend, after humans were created by the goddess Xmucane, the God Sovereign Plumed Serpent gave cacao to the Maya.
The name “chocolate” comes from the Nahuatl word ‘atte’, which in the Mexican Spanish language means ‘water’, and from the sound that the water and cacao blend makes as it is whipped up by the cook: choco, choco, choco, until it is bubbly and rises into a froth.
Cacao medicinal properties were noted to alleviate fever, anemia, poor appetite, metal fatigue, poor breast milk production, as well as tuberculosis, gout, kidney stones, and low virility.
This delicious bean was famous for healing the nervous system and improving digestion and elimination.
Raw cacao is full of antioxidants. Benefits from keeping organic chocolate unheated include; much higher levels of antioxidants; oligomeric procynanidins, resveratrol and the polyphenols: catechin and epicatechin as well as the preservation of vitamin C, phenethylamine (PEA, the feel good neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of love!), Omega 6 fatty acids (which when heated become rancid and cause inflammation), tryptophan (a commonly deficient amino acid in those who consume a diet of mostly cooked food) and serotonin.
Cacao mass contains potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and magnesium which contribute to cardiovascular health.
Cacao has the ability to trigger the release of dopamine and the endorphin phenyethylamine, both of which soothe the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and depression.
Due to its high valeric acid content, cacao has stress relieving properties despite the presence of the stimulants theobromine and caffeine.
Processed and cooked chocolate loses much of the nutrients and when you add dairy, sugar and other fillers which change its qualities to what is commonly attributed to non-raw chocolate bars, such as cavities, weight gain and diabetes.
Health benefits of chocolate when it is in the form of raw cacao beans, butter, nibs and/or the powder include; weight loss because of its high chromium and coumarin content; prevention of cavities theobromine actually kills streptococci mutans one of the strains of bacteria that cause tooth decay, and regulation of blood sugar which is beneficial for diabetes as chromium can naturally regulate blood sugar.
Cacao is the highest whole food source of magnesium, which also happens to be the most deficient mineral in the diet of modern cultures. Magnesium relaxes muscles, improves peristalsis in the bowels and relaxes the heart and cardiovascular system.
Raw cacao benefits the heart and the entire cardiovascular system as a whole. The dark chocolate antioxidants have been clinically proven to literally dissolve plaque built up in the arteries which helps in reversing heart disease and causes naturally lower blood pressure.
The Department of Nutrition at University of California, Davis discovered that cacao thins blood and can prevent blood clots. This finding shows that eating raw cacao can be just as beneficial as taking an aspirin a day.
Chocolate is also notable high in minerals. An ounce of chocolate that is 70% cacao solids has 63 mg of magnesium as well as other minerals including 25% of your daily copper and manganese.
It has some of the same antioxidants as green tea making it a potential cancer fighter. Chocolate is also well known for being a mood booster and may even modulate our production of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Research confirms that chocolate helps to relieve emotional stress.
Stress hormones and stress-related biochemical agents were reduced when volunteers, who rated themselves as highly stressed, consumed 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate per day for a period of two weeks.
Word of Caution
As healthy as cacao nibs may be, eating too many can cause side effects. Cacao contains caffeine as well as a substance called theobromine, both of which are stimulants. Therefore, eating too many cacao nibs may cause anxiety, heartburn, sleeplessness and abnormal heart rhythms, according to New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Sensitivity to caffeine and theobromine varies by individual; some people may experience side effects from just one serving, while others may only experience adverse reactions with large doses.
Cacao to Chocolate
The cacao bean is the source of both cacao and cocoa powders. So, “cacao” basically refers to the raw form of chocolate.
The cacao bean is what any type of chocolate (cocoa powder) is initially made of.
Actual cacao beans are found inside the fruit of the tree in fleshy, oval-shaped pods. The beans are harvested, fermented, and dried.
When you see cacao nibs, powdered cacao (or cacao powder) in the grocery stores, the bean is in its raw state—uncooked, additive free, and unprocessed.
Cacao contains an abundance of antioxidants, because it’s raw and pure.
It’s also a fantastic source of fiber, magnesium, essential fatty acids, iron, copper, zinc, sulfur, and calcium.
It isn’t until after the cacao beans are roasted and processed that they are called cocoa. Most cocoa powders have additives like sweeteners or cocoa butter. Once roasted and processed (turning cacao to cocoa), the beans lose much of their nutritional benefits.
There are two types of cocoa powder: Dutch-process cocoa powder is made from cocoa (cacao) beans that have been washed with a potassium carbonate solution, to alkalize the pH and to neutralize their acidity. Dutch-process is dark brown in color.
Natural cocoa powder is reddish-brown and is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted and ground into a fine powder.
Natural unsweetened cocoa powder is actually very similar to raw cacao powder except for experiencing higher temperatures during production, which decreases antioxidant activity.
Cacao is not an especially easy plant.
It can tolerate short periods of temperatures below about 60˚F, but it will not thrive and growth will almost stop.
Prolonged periods of temperatures below 50˚F will prove fatal.
It really does best when grown within its preferred, and relatively narrow, band of filtered sunlight, very high humidity, plenty of food and water, and warm temperatures.
If you can provide these conditions, your plant should be fine. If you’re set on getting seeds from your plant, you’ll probably need two plants.
Cacao flowers contain both male and female parts, but the vast majority of cacao plants cannot fertilize themselves, so a companion is required for germination.
As a margin or understory plant, they do best with filtered sunlight. Cacao should not be exposed to direct, midday sunlight as it will scorch the leaves.
Regular water through the growing season and very high humidity (at least 70 percent).
Most indoor cacao plants are more for novelty and not pod production. Cacao plants need their prime tropical conditions for it to live and produce.
Theobroma cacao pods
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