What is Cacao?
Cacao is a small, tropical plant that is native to South America and grown here in Toledo, the southern district of Belize. The plant is distinguished by its large leaves and small pink flowers on the tree trunk and branches of the tree. The Mayans, Olmec, and Aztecs of Mesoamerica used to worship cacao, and thought of the hot, thick drink they made as the "drink of the gods." Cacao was also used as the currency for Mesoamericans.
There are three types of cacao beans that we use in chocolate, and they are:
Criollo is the most expensive cacao bean out of the three. It is native to South and Central America. Because of its low vulnerability to disease and its low efficiency, it is also the rarest cacao bean and it makes-up only 10% of the world's production of cacao beans.
Forastero is the most common type of cacao bean. It is disease-resistant, unlike the Criollo Bean, which is why it makes up most of the cacao beans cultivated. This bean is native to Africa and South America, which were once connected in the super-continent Pangaea.
Trinitario is a cross mixture of the Criollo and Forastero cacao bean. Although it resembles the Criollo bean physically, it tastes like the Forastero bean. It is common in most chocolate, and is native to Trinidad.
Health Benefits of Cacao
Cacao benas contain no sugar and between 12 and 50% fat depending on variety and growth conditions. There is no evidence to implicate cacao bean consumption with obesity.
Cacao is remarkably rich in sulfur and magnesium.
In fact, cacao seems to be the #1 source of magnesium of any food. This is likely the primary reason women crave chocolate during the menstrual period. Magnesium balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones, and is associated with more happiness. magnesium is the most deficient major mineral on the Standard American Diet (SAD)- over 80% of Americans are chronically deficient in Magnesium!
Cacao is high in the beauty mineral sulfur. Sulfur builds strong nails, hair, shiny skin, detoxifies the liver, and supports healthy pancreas functioning. Anecdotal reports indicate that cacao detoxifies mercury because it is so high in sulfur.
Cacao contains subtle amounts of natural caffeine and theobromine. However, experiments have shown that these stimulants are far different consumed raw than cooked.
Cacao seems to diminish appetite, probably due to its monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibitors (MAO inhibitors). These are different from digestive enzyme inhibitors found in most nuts and seeds. According to Dr. Gabriel Cousens, MAO inhibitors facilitate youthening and rejuvenation.
Phenylethylamine (PEA) is found in chocolate. PEA is an adrenal-relateed chemical that is also created within the brain and released when we are in love. This is one of the reasons why love and chocolate have a deep correlation. PEA alsos plays a role in increasing focus and alertness.
A neurotransmitter called anandamide has been isolated in cacao. Anandamide is also produced naturally in the brain. Anandamide is known as the 'Bliss Chemical' becuase it is released while we are feeling great. Cacao contains enzyme inhibitors that decrease our bodies' ability to breakdown anandamide. This meands that the natural and/ or cacao anandamide may stick around longer, making us feel good longer when we eat cacao.
A recent study showed that only 1 out of 500 people who thought they were allergic to chocolate actually tested positive. Allergies to chocolate are quite rare. It is typically that the person is in fact allergic to milk and dairy products.