I’m not sure where you’re reading from, but it’s a little chilly in New York City today. When it’s on the cooler side, one of my favorite ways to curb my sweet cravings in the afternoon is to make a cup of hot chocolate. Awhile back, I was perusing the aisles of Whole Foods and was overwhelmed by all the hot cocoa mixes and cacao powder options. Then, I saw raw cacao in the supplement section and was really intrigued as to how it could provide all the health benefits it was boasting on the side of the package. Let’s face it.. I don’t get all of those benefits from eating a chocolate bar!
I wasn’t 100% sure what differentiated the two so I decided to do some research and I’m so glad I did. Turns out, cacao is packed full of health benefits compared to its processed counterpart.
According to Equal Exchange, "Cacao" is the bean that comes from the cacao tree, which is known by the scientific name of Theobroma cacao. Cacao pods - large football-shaped fruits - grow off the trunk and limbs of the cacao tree, and cacao beans are found inside the pods. The beans are harvested, fermented and dried. They are then cleaned and roasted, after which point the products are often referred to as "cocoa." In other words, "cocoa" is what the bean is called after it has been processed.
Simply put, cocoa is the processed version of cacao. Unfortunately, the process of roasting the beans leaves cocoa with very little health benefits. Cacao (powder or nibs) is the raw bean and is totally unprocessed. It’s chocked full of antioxidants and is also a fantastic source of many nutrients such as fiber, magnesium, essential fatty acids, iron, copper, zinc, sulfur, and calcium.
So how do you use raw cacao? It’s very bitter unlike cocoa powder which usually contains added sugar so I suggest sweetening it with a little honey or maple syrup, especially if you’re using it as a chocolate substitute. I throw it in smoothies, baked goods, acai bowls, and more.
Here’s the hot chocolate recipe I’m drinking right now:
1 Cup Organic Almond Milk
2 Tbsp Raw Organic Cacao Powder*
2 Tbsp Organic Honey
Heat almond milk in a small saucepan on low-medium heat. Stir in cacao and honey, whisking until it’s smooth. Bring to a slight boil then pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!
For a more in depth look at the health benefits associated with raw cacao, read this article by Sarah Wilson of I Quit Sugar.
*Always make sure your cacao is fair trade certified