The Buzz on Cacao Powder
Truth bomb: chocolate, in its raw whole food form, is actually good for us!
The truth behind chocolate's health benefits is attributed to cacao. For centuries, cacao has been a respected "superfood" in South America.
Raw cacao powder has a dark rich taste and smooth texture - ideal for baking, adding to smoothies and as a coffee alternative. Plus, it's a powerhouse of antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
While the exact amount of caffeine in cacao powder varies, a serving tends to contain about 1/20 the caffeine in a cup of coffee. The caffeine-like effects are due to theobromine, the sister molecule of caffeine. It makes up about 1-2% of cacao and acts as a mild stimulant, versus a java jolt on the nervous system.
Cacao in a bean shell
The cacao fruit tree, known in Latin as Theobroma cacao ("food of the gods"), grows cacao pods. The pods are cracked open to release cacao beans.
The outer lining of these magic beans is made up of cacao butter, the fattiest part of the fruit. Cacao butter is white in colour and has a smooth, buttery texture (similar to white chocolate).
So, what's up with cacao powder?
Raw cacao powder is produced when the cacao butter is removed from the bean. If we chop up a handful of cacao beans, we get cacao nibs. Although quite bitter, they're a healthier alternative to chocolate chips (without the added sugar, milk and fat).
Cacao paste, on the other hand, is made when cacao nibs are gradually heated and melted into a bark. It makes a yummy crunchy snack, and can also be used in baking.
Cocoa vs. cacao
Cocoa powder, the processed version of raw cacao, is still good for us when we source a brand that doesn't contain added sugar, oils or milk fat. Although cocoa is heated at a high temperature, it still maintains a fair amount of antioxidants.
Dutch-processed cocoa may sound like it walks around in mini wooden clogs, but it's really a form of cocoa that has been processed with an alkalized solution (potassium carbonate). This works to neutralize cocoa's acidity, rendering it much richer and smoother. Best for use in recipes that call for baking powder (with a neutral pH).
Health perks of raw cacao
When shopping for high quality cacao, look for a cold-pressed, non-GMO cacao powder (preferably sourced from organic heirloom cacao beans).
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