Cacao is a small brown bean resembling a coffee bean. This bean is often used to make chocolates for its smooth, rich, and decadent taste. This process includes liquefying cacao nibs or seeds without the shell to create chocolate liquor. It is then pressed into powder or bars using a weighted press. Cacao was cultivated over 3,000 years ago in Peru. They called it “the food of the gods,” because they believed it worthy enough to be a divine offering. Once discovered by the new world, it was designated as a drink for nobles.
The primary culinary use for cacao is to make chocolate, which can then be used in any recipe that calls for chocolate nibs, powder, or liquor. In addition to chocolate, cacao can be used to make coffee, frozen yogurt, and truffles or incorporated into trail mix, figs, and cookies.
Cacao is considered a multivitamin as it is loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, so the darker or less processed the chocolate, the more cacao there is. Therefore, the more nutrients and health benefits there are. The antioxidant capacity of cacao is higher than that of black tea, green tea, and red wine, so it has the antioxidant power equivalent to that of vitamin C. It can help treat inflammatory diseases, cardiovascular disease, help fight against free radicals, and can potentially help fight cancer.
Cacao is also composed of iron, omega-6 fatty acids, theobromine, and polyphenols, which plays an important role in heart health and brain function. Studies have linked cacao to a decrease in cardiovascular disease risk. Cacao flavanols have been proven to help support healthy circulation by helping the arteries stay supple. It is shown that cacao decreases blood pressure, increases vasodilation of the blood vessels, decreases total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and increases HDL cholesterol, which are also important in healthy circulation. In addition, polyphenols have been proven to protect against nerve cell injury and inflammation; thus, playing a role in protecting the brain from normal degeneration or neurodegenerative diseases.
Cacao plays an important role in the regulation of diabetes. Numerous studies have shown that cacao phenolics decrease insulin resistance and can increase insulin sensitivity and beta cell function in the pancreas. Meaning it has the potential for diabetes management. Additionally, it is a natural appetite suppressant, so it can help reduce food cravings and aid in weight loss, which can also help with diabetes management.