What's cracking with cacao?

What's cracking with cacao?

Resident nutritionist Sammy Truswell gives us some insight into cacao and just what all the hype is about.

Some might think you’re pronouncing cocoa a little strangely, while foodies on the other hand will be singing cacao’s praises from the tree tops, which leaves the rest of us exceedingly confused.

So what is cocoa and what is cacao, and what is all the fuss about? Is chocolate actually good for us?

Raw cacao powder is the result of cold-processing unroasted cacao beans. Similarly with other cold processing methods, which exclude the addition of heat, nutrients are therefore retained.

 Cocoa on the other hand is roasted cacao beans processed with the use of heat therefore diminishing those health-promoting substances. We are not saying cocoa is bad for you but when you understand the health properties of cacao you will be squeezing it into every dish.

Cacao beans come from pods of three varieties of the theobroma cacao tree, which thrive in tropical climates. As well as utilizing the beans, the inside fatty substance that lines the pod is used as cacao butter.

Nutritional highlights of cacao

  • Rich in minerals: Iron, chromium, vanadium, copper, zinc, phosphorus and particularly magnesium.
  • High in antioxidants: Flavanoids are the most prominent. These protect against damage to cholesterol and the lining of the arteries as well as exerting antiplatelet activity, reducing the risk of blood clots.
  • Blood sugar regulation: Cacao may contribute to the reduction in insulin resistance
  • Cardio protective: Cacao contains arginine, an amino acid required for the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide contributes to the dilation of blood vessels, which helps to control blood flow, inflammation and blood pressure.  
  • Sensory stimulant: Cacao contains phenylethylamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of euphoria. This may explain the claims that chocolate is the food of love.

The price of cacao varies greatly compared to cocoa so be prepared for the difference, however knowing cacao’s nutritional benefits helps to explain why.

Chocolate has been around for decades, tantalizing and seducing people around the world and when eaten in the right form and without excess sugar it is something to be savoured and shared. Guilt free.