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Cacao: Getting Your Chocolate Fix the Healthy Way

If you frequently crave chocolate but don’t want all the extra sugar and additives of a chocolate bar, then look no further. 

Siesta Botanicals offers organic powdered cacao that you can create into all kinds of healthy and delicious chocolate treats, from hot chocolate to chocolate chia pudding.

What is cacao?

Cacao beans (Theobroma Cacao) are an incredibly nutritious superfood, grown on trees in Central and South America. 

Dry cacao solids are the components of cocoa beans that remain after the cocoa butter (the fat component) has been extracted from chocolate liquor (roasted cocoa beans that have been ground into a liquid state). 

People commonly consume cacao to help with issues such as depression, stress, blood pressure and heart health. 

Where does cacao originate?

Foods and beverages made from cacao beans have been consumed by humans since at least as early as 460 AD. 

The medicinal uses of cacao began in Mesoamerica, where it was consumed by indigenous groups. It later spread to Europe in the mid-1500s. Between the 16th and 20th centuries, more than 100 medical uses for cacao, or chocolate, have been documented. 

Health Benefits of Cacao

Raw organic cacao has more than 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries and more calcium than cow’s milk. It’s also the highest plant-based provider of iron. 

Iron deficiency is one of the most severe nutritional problems around the world. Dark chocolate provides 25% of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) at 1.90 milligrams.

Cacao is also rich in several other minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and copper.

Cacao is one of the richest sources of polyphenols. These are naturally occurring antioxidants also found in foods like vegetables, fruits and tea. Polyphenols help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol. 

Cocoa powder contains up to 50 mg of polyphenols per gram. Single servings of cocoa and cocoa products contain more phenolic antioxidants than most foods, and more procyanidins (a class of flavonoids) than the typical American consumes each day.

The antioxidant effects of cacao may directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce the risk for diabetes.

The heating and heavy processing of cacao causes it to lose some of its benefits, so it’s best to get it in raw organic form.

A Better Source of Energy

Not only is cacao significantly healthy and delicious, but it can also add an energetic burst to your day without the comedown of drinking coffee. This is because cacao contains some caffeine (much less than coffee) as well as a compound called theobromine.

Theobromine — found in higher amounts in cacao than caffeine — gives you more of a holistic high, compared to the jitteriness of caffeine. Theobromine is more mild than caffeine — it has a slower onset, is longer-lasting and non-addictive.

Both caffeine and theobromine are believed to act on adenosine receptors. They compete with the metabolite adenosine (which can make you feel sleepy) to bind to these receptors, causing you to feel more awake.

Theobromine can also help with circulation, memory and brain function. Theobromine may also be useful in asthma and in other respiratory issues such as coughing.

Research

Research has found that cacao can help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Specifically, cacao flavanols exert anti-inflammatory action, improve blood flow, and decrease blood pressure and platelet aggregation (the clumping together of blood cells to form clots).

In a review in the journal Antioxidants & Redox Signaling, the authors write “The Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands of Panama consume an average of three 10-ounce cups of cocoa beverage daily, ingesting approximately 1880 mg of procyanidins.”

“The prevalence of hypertension among the Kuna islanders is very low (2.2%) and blood pressure (BP) does not increase with age.”

“The population also experiences lower rates of diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, stroke, and cancer than mainland Panamanians. Among Kuna who have migrated to urban areas on mainland Panama, the prevalence of hypertension is higher (10.7%) and reaches 45% among those over age 60.”

Overall, the researchers hypothesized that the “high intake of a traditional cocoa beverage may be partly responsible for the low incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Kuna islanders.”

“Compared to Kuna living in a suburb of Panama City, those still living on the remote islands consume twice as much fruit, four times as much fish, and 10 times as much cocoa.”

Cacao Recipes 

These recipes can also be found in our article “Baking and Brewing With Botanicals.”

Hot Chocolate, Smoothies, Baked Goods

The uses for cacao powder are nearly limitless. One of the most popular uses for cacao powder is in the making of homemade hot chocolate! Simply mix the powder with warm milk and add sweetener to taste. 

If you’re trying to go easy on the sugar, you can sweeten it with raw honey or Stevia. Add a little cayenne pepper for Mayan hot chocolate. 

Add cacao powder to smoothies and yogurt. Incorporate it into baked goods or mix it into your pancake batter!

Mayan Hot Chocolate Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons cacao powder
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup of milk or almond or coconut milk
  • sweetener (honey, Stevia, erythritol )

Directions:

  • gently warm milk on stovetop
  • mix the cacao, cayenne and cinnamon together in a mug
  • pour the warm milk over the powder mixture
  • add sweetener to taste

Overnight Chocolate Chia Pudding

  • 1/4 cup cacao powder
  • 3-5 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups milk or unsweetened nut milk
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds

Directions

  • In a mixing bowl add cacao powder, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla and whisk together. Next, slowly add part of the milk and keep whisking until a paste forms. Then add the rest of the milk and whisk until smooth.
  • Add chia seeds and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least 3-5 hours (until it gets a pudding texture). 
  • Serve chilled with desired toppings, such as chopped nuts, shredded coconut or whipped cream.

 

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