Revered in Mexico, Central and South America for thousands of years for its health benefits, cacao has recently gained its rightful place in the spotlight as a bonafide superfood. It is incredibly rich in antioxidants, so much so that it is believed to contain the highest amount of them found in any food! Cacao is also an excellent source of minerals such as magnesium and iron, vitamins, fiber, monounsaturated fats, protein and natural carbohydrates, making it an incredible source of essential nutrients.
Cacao vs. Cocoa
While both cacao and cocoa are derived from the cacao beans found in the pods that come off of the cacao fruit tree, known scientifically as Theobroma Cacao, they are processed in different ways and therefore are not identical products. Raw cacao powder is the purest form of chocolate available, has an extremely rich flavor and texture, and is processed at a low temperature so the nutrients remain intact, while cocoa powder is processed at a higher temperature and often includes sugar, dried milk, colorants or additives. Cocoa powder is a product that is widely available and quite inexpensive, while cacao is harder to find and typically costs more.
Ways to Enjoy Cacao
One of the greatest things about cacao is the fact that its powder can be used interchangeably with traditional, over-processed cocoa powder in baking recipes, allowing you to boost the nutrition in homemade baked treats such as brownies, cookies and cakes. You can also enhance just about any food or drink with a chocolatey flavor while pumping up the health benefits of everything from shakes and smoothies, to coffee and hot chocolate, to traditional Mexican molé, not to mention countless other possibilities. With cacao, your chocolate cravings are sure to be satisfied in the healthiest way possible!
The Many Forms of Cacao
While cacao powder is a versatile, healthy and delicious food, it is not the only way to enjoy cacao’s benefits. Cacao nibs are also a popular item on the market, and they are actually just cacao beans that have been cut up into smaller bits, which makes them similar to chocolate chips except they don’t have sugar and fat added to them like processed chocolate. Cacao nibs are loaded with nutrients, fat and fiber, and they can also be used to create cacao paste when slowly heated. This process melts the cacao nibs into a bark that is a less-processed version of dark chocolate candy bars, which can be used in desserts or enjoyed as a tasty treat all on its own.
Treat yourself to this delicious, nutritious superfood the next time you feel like your diet needs a reboot!