Just about anyone I’ve encountered at any recent cocktail party, dinner gathering or even group run has enjoyed the distinct pleasure of listening to me gush about raw cacao. “Do you mean cocoa?” they ask. “No, I mean cacao [ka-kow]“. They usually wonder, “What the heck is that?”
Once known as the “Food of the Gods” by ancient Aztecs and Mayans, cacao was once considered so valuable a commodity that it was used as a form of currency. Now deemed a true superfood, it has the highest antioxidant value of any food known. Using the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale developed by the USDA, cacao far surpasses the value of green tea, red wine, blueberries, and goji berries in its powers to fight free radicals.
Whereas cocoa powder is derived from roasted cacao beans, cacao powder is raw and essentially untreated. The fat (cacao butter) is removed from the cocoa bean through a cold pressing process that leaves behind the purest form of chocolate that is incredibly rich in both flavour and nutrients. So, essentially, cacao is unprocessed chocolate.
Cacao contains more Magnesium than any other food source. Some studies cite this mineral as the #1 most deficient in North America. Magnesium helps calm nerves and reduce stress and anxiety. That’s why so many natural practitioners suggest supplementation for anyone struggling to get a good night’s sleep. Magnesium also relaxes blood vessels (which supports heart health and lowers blood pressure) and promotes alkalinity (which helps keep our bones strong and healthy).
We all know that chocolate simply makes us happy! It contains chemicals that increase the levels of “feel-good” neurotransmitters in our brain. Cacao can raise the level of serotonin, which can enhance your mood and even ease the symptoms of PMS. Phenylethylamine is a another compound that is found in chocolate and is released in the brain when we are in love. It promotes happiness, alertness and a sense of well being. Cacao also contains anandamide, another “bliss” hormone that gives you that sense of being on top of the world. There just may be a chemical reason after all for those chocolate cravings when you’re feeling a little blue.
Finally, if you even need any more reasons to love cacao, it contains 6 grams of fibre, 6 grams of protein and high levels of zinc and iron per tablespoon. Oh, and did I mention zero sugar?
When I gush about how much I love cacao, I also gush about all the ways I love to use it. Almost daily I add anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon to my morning smoothie. Everybody knows my favourite combo is almond milk, spinach, banana, coconut oil and cacao…..the healthiest chocolatiest treat to kick off your day!
Now, for the holiday treat I’ve promised everyone I would share. These vegan “Chocolate Coconut Balls” garner rave reviews from all the parties I bring them to. They’re rich tasting, yet not sweet or heavy. I think they’d even provide a perfect pre-workout dash of energy for all my fellow athletes.
I should stop telling everybody how easy these are to make! Here you go:
Chocolate Coconut Balls
- 1 1/2 cups organic unsweetened shredded coconut
- 3/4 cup maple syrup (or agave works well also)
- 3/4 cup organic raw cacao
- 1/4 cup organic coconut oil
- 1/4 cup chia seeds
- dash of vanilla extract
Mix all the ingredients thoroughly. Roll into bite-size balls. And that’s it!
Store the in the freezer and take out about 20 minutes before you want to serve them.
Anyone else have any cacao treats to share?