When we think about cacao, we often think about the role that it plays in the production of chocolate bars, hot chocolate, chocolate cake or chocolate biscuits. It is quite hard to imagine it is packed full of compounds that can be beneficial to our health!
The Rich History of Cacao
Cacao is just as rich in history as it is in aroma and flavour. It dates back thousands of years ago to ancient South American cultures like the Mayans, who enjoyed their daily cup of special cacao, or as they called it Xocolātl (literally meaning bitter drink), like we would enjoy our daily cup of Joe. They used it for various reason from rituals to healing practices, and valued cacao beans so highly that they used it as a currency trade – being paid in chocolate, I wouldn’t mind that! When the Spanish Conquistadors started invading Mesoamerica, they discovered the cacao crop and were introduced to the special chocolate drink, but as you can imagine, they were not impressed with the bitter taste. So, they tweaked it a bit, added sugar and spices to make it more palatable and after a few decades it started to spread across Europe and then to the rest of the world.
Wait, there is more – the Benefits of Cacao
Learning more about cacao is like opening up a treasure chest and realizing there is so much more than an interesting history and delicious flavour. Cacao was found to be one of the riches polyphenols sources, making it quite a popular food item to research over the past few decades. Polyphenols are compounds naturally found in plant foods that act as anti-oxidants to help protect our body cells against damage and keep them healthy. This is quite a big deal, as research suggest that damage to our cells play a role in the development of numerous health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, memory loss and other autoimmune diseases, to name a few! Studies also found that when combined with a healthy overall diet high in fruits and vegetables, also high in polyphenols, cacao might have several beneficial effects on heart health, including lowering high blood pressure and reducing inflammation.
Take care of processing and chocolate
Unfortunately, not all cacao products can have these amazing benefits, as processing removes a lot of the compounds giving us these benefits. Be on the lookout for non-alkalized pure cacao powder and dark chocolate containing more than 70% cacao for optimal health benefits. Just remember, chocolate still contains a lot of sugar and fat, so practice good portion control and combine it with an overall healthy lifestyle.
Have a look at our Collagen hot chocolate made with pure cacao powder to enjoy some chocolate goodness with all the benefits found in this gem. I also found this really easy recipe on how to make your own healthy hot chocolate with the following ingredients: