Sacred Chocolate


Before becoming chocolate, a cacao bean sprouts from the seed of a plant. This superfood comes straight out of nature, and is loaded with powerful nutrition. The experience of its flavor, sensations, and benefits is a true gift from the Earth.

The richness of chocolate goes beyond just the flavor. Chocolate is also rich in nutrients, and rich in history. With all this richness, it’s no wonder ancient cultures used it as currency and considered it sacred.


The cacao beans are found in the fruits (called pods) of the cacao tree, native to Central and South America. The flavor of these beans right out of the pods are slightly acidic and bitter, with some sweet and dark chocolatey notes. The beans are first fermented, and then dried and roasted to create cocoa beans (3, 4).


As we all know, there are many options when it comes to what to do with the cacao beans from here. There are countless flavorings to add and ways it is prepared. There are both very healthy, and very unhealthy options existing in our world today. These range from sacred cacao ceremonies with pure ingredients and spiritual ritual, to gas station candy bars loaded with harmful ingredients, and everywhere in between.


With all of the processing and added ingredients in our chocolate today, It is easy to forget that chocolate is derived from the seed of a fruit. Although our mainstream chocolate products are loaded with sugar and unhealthy ingredients, we can find purer forms of chocolate that won’t compromise our health, and will allow us to reap the benefits.


Before we look at the health benefits of chocolate and the most nutritional types to consume, let’s take a look at chocolate’s history and how it’s evolved into what we have today.


History of Chocolate


The Roots of Chocolate

In chocolate’s earliest form, and for many generations after, the cocoa bean was revered as sacred. The earliest form of chocolate was in Southern Mexico around the era of 1500-400BC. It is thought that the ancient Olmecs were the first to harvest the cocoa bean, and may have used it to make a ceremonial drink. Over time, the magical fruit made its way to the Mayans of Central America, where they used it for celebrations and to finalize important transactions. In Mayan households, they enjoyed chocolate with every meal. Mayan chocolate was thick and frothy, often combined with chili peppers, honey or water (2, 4).


By the 14th century, cacao became popular with the Aztecs, who also enjoyed cacao as a spiced chocolate beverage. The Aztecs believed cacao to be given to them by the gods. Although the lower classes enjoyed cacao on occasion for celebrations, it was mainly reserved it for the upper class. The Aztecs also believed cacao to be more valuable than gold, and used it for currency.

It is even said that the Aztec ruler Montezuma II drank gallons of chocolate each day, both for energy and as an aphrodisiac (4).


The Aztecs and the Mayans were also using cacao in their cooking, creating sauces and mixing it in with chilis and spices. They respected it greatly and guarded it in temples. (5)



Chocolate Arrives in Europe and the United States

Cacao eventually made its way into Spain in the 1500s, and later to other parts of Europe. When it first arrived, it was only for the rich or high courts to enjoy. However, it didn’t take long to spread throughout Europe. Cacao became popular as medicine and an aphrodisiac. People marveled at the taste and the wonderful ways they felt after consuming it. Cocoa was an ingredient used for celebrations, holidays, and as an expression of love. Europeans also began experimenting with new ways to make hot chocolate, adding milk, sugar and other flavorings. Chocolate houses for the wealthy soon popped up throughout London, Amsterdam, and other cities. (4,5)


In 1753, a Swedish Scientist even named the genus and species of the cocoa tree as he thought it to be so valuable. He called it Theobroma Cacao, meaning “Cacao, Food of the Gods.” (3)


Chocolate had also arrived to the United States in 1641, and the first chocolate house opened in Boston in 1682. By 1773, chocolate was enjoyed by people of all classes. During the Revolutionary War, chocolate was given to soldiers in rations and sometimes even as payments. Chocolate was also given in rations to soldiers in World War II (4).


The Beginning of Processed Chocolate

In 1828, a Dutch chemist invented a way to make a powdered chocolate, through a process named “Dutch processing.” This created cacao powder or “Dutch cocoa.” This chemist is also thought to have created the cocoa press, which separated the cocoa butter from the roasted cocoa bean to create an inexpensive cocoa powder. Both of these processes allowed chocolate to be affordable for everyone, and opened the door for mass-production of chocolate (4).


For most of the 19th century, chocolate was in the form of a beverage. In 1847, the first chocolate bar was molded from a paste made of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter. In 1876, a swiss chocolatier added dried milk powder to chocolate to create milk chocolate. Several years later, he partnered with his friend to create the Nestle Company, bringing milk chocolate to the large mainstream market (4).


By 1879, the conch machine was invented to mix chocolate down to a smooth, melty consistency that blended well with other ingredients. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, companies such as Cadbury, Hershey, and Mars were also mass-producing varieties of chocolate. (4)


Chocolate Today

Today, standard chocolate bars are highly processed, and contain many chemicals and artificial ingredients. While these types are mainstream, there are also pure and healthy forms of chocolate on the market. There are countless varieties in both the type and the quality of chocolate available to us, as well as a large variety of chocolatiers, companies and practices making these different forms of chocolate.




Health Benefits of Chocolate


In it's pure form, chocolate provides sacred nutrition and health benefits to human minds and bodies. Unfortunately, most of the nutritional benefits of chocolate are destroyed in our mainstream chocolate bars. This happens as a result of both the processing methods, as well as the added milk, sugar, and chemical ingredients. The good news: we can still choose to enjoy pure forms of chocolate and experience the health benefits.


These pure forms include raw cacao, dark chocolate, and cocoa powder.



And what are these benefits of having these pure forms of chocolate?

-Elevates your mood, and can even help to relieve depression.

-Increased energy levels

-Improved mental clarity and focus

-Improved memory and cognition

-Can increase heart health

-Can create a healthy balance in cholesterol levels

-Can help to balance blood sugar

-High in flavanols and antioxidants



Let's take a closer look...



Blissful State of Mind

The cocoa bean is packed with nutrients, minerals, and chemicals that are often known as bliss chemicals. One of these key chemicals is called “anandamine.” In Sanskrit, “Ananda” literally translates to “bliss.” This is the chemical that makes us feel good. Cacao also contains phenethylamines. This chemical related to the adrenals, and is also created in our own brains. It is released when we are in love.. and when we eat chocolate.It is for these reasons that chocolate has been suggested as an alternative to anti-depressants (3).


Increased Focus & Cognitive Performance

The phenethylamines and flavanols in chocolate helps to improve focus. Flavanols help attention and memory, and may improve thinking skills in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Flavanols have been shown to promote the connections and survival of brain cells. They also protect brain cells from the negative effects of inflammation. (1,2, 3)


Antioxidants

Cacao is one of the world’s top sources of antioxidants, and helps the body get rid of free radicals. This comes as no big surprise, as the cocoa bean is the life source for a new plant. It’s antioxidant content is much higher than blueberries, and 10 times the amount found in oranges (5).


Energy

Theobroumine is also found in cacao. This, along with the antioxidants, creates a significant energy boost. Although there is a small amount of caffeine that also contributes to this boost, the theobroumine and the antioxidants have much more to do with this (5).


Heart Health, Blood Flow, and Blood Sugar

Cacao is the #1 source of chromium and magnesium. Magnesium is excellent for heart health, and chromium helps to balance blood sugar. The flavanols help to prevent cell damage, prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. These flavanols can also reduce risk of diabetes (1,2,3,5).




Types of Pure Healthy Chocolate



The purest, most nutritional form is raw cacao, which is the unprocessed version of the cacao bean. Close behind in nutritional benefits are dark chocolate and pure cocoa powder. While some of the nutrition is lost from the cacao to create these two, they still pack a nutritional punch without too much processing or added ingredients.


Think of chocolate as both a treat and a supplement. While moderate amounts can provide the benefits listed above, you don’t want to over-do it.


Also remember to stay mindful of the ingredients you add. The great thing about preparing your own chocolate treat is that you have full control over what else goes into it.


You can use cacao, dark chocolate, or cocoa powder to create your own simple chocolate treat, and add just the right amount of pure sweetness or spice to suit your taste.


Some ideas for sweeteners include: raw organic honey, agave, or pure maple syrup. For even lower sugar content, try brown rice syrup.

Some sugar-free options include: coconut oil, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla. Sea salt is also a nice touch!


However you choose to sweeten your chocolate, aim for low amounts of sugar.


Let’s take a closer look at the purest forms of chocolate that pack the most nutrition:



Raw Cacao

Raw organic cacao is one of the most chemically complex foods on the planet. It is the most raw, pure, and nutrient-dense form of chocolate. Raw cacao is also a delivery mechanism for herbs. It opens up the capillaries and allows other nutrients to be better absorbed in the body (3).


Cacao can be found in stores as cacao nibs, ground cacao, or cacao powder.

Some ways to enjoy cacao:

-IN SMOOTHIES

-IN BAKING RECIPES

-IN CHIA PUDDING

-FRENCH-PRESSED DRINK

(use ground cacao)

-HOT CHOCOLATE

(use powdered cacao, and try making it sweet OR spicy)

-OVER DAIRY-FREE ICE CREAM OR YOGURT

(some options include cashew, coconut, and almond)




Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate contains 50-90% cocoa solids, whereas milk chocolate only contains 10-15% cocoa solids. Dark chocolate also contains up to 2-3 times more flavanol-rich cocoa solids than milk chocolate (2).


Remember that dark chocolate is high in calories, and too much can lead to weight gain. However, chocolate is similar to nuts in it’s ability to induce satiety. For health benefits, have no more than of 1-2 small squares/6 grams daily. (2).


When buying a dark chocolate bar, aim for high quality and choose one made of at least 65%-70% dark chocolate or higher to obtain the most flavanols. Also make sure that it does not include artificial or chemical ingredients, and that it is dairy-free (2).


Some ways to enjoy dark chocolate:

-A SIMPLE PIECE OF CHOCOLATE

-DARK CHOCOLATE CHIPS IN BAKING

-MELT IT OVER YOUR DAIRY-FREE ICE CREAM

(some options include cashew, coconut, and almond)





Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder is sometimes treated with the Dutch-processing method to improve the flavor and appearance, but this causes a significant loss of flavanols. Pure organic cocoa, however does still retain a significant amount of flavanols (1).


Some ways to enjoy cocoa powder

-IN SMOOTHIES

-IN BAKING RECIPES

-IN CHIA PUDDING

-HOT CHOCOLATE

(use powdered cacao, and try making it sweet OR spicy)

-OVER YOUR DAIRY-FREE ICE CREAM

(some options include cashew, coconut, and almond)






So there you have it. Pure chocolate is both a treat and a health food.

It is sacred to our minds, bodies, and spirits ...

Chocolate boosts our physical health, and enriches our emotional & mental well-being.



For simple recipes and ideas involving cacao, chocolate, and cocoa:

follow me on Instagram: @ecomotion.melanie.






Sources

1. Godman, Heidi, “Cocao: a sweet treat for the brain?” Harvard Health Publishing; Harvard Medical School, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cocoa-sweet-treat-brain-201502057676.


2. Harvard, “Dark Chocolate, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/dark-chocolate/.


3. Hirschkorn, Liran. “Embrace Superfoods,” Health Coach Training Program, Institute for Integrative Nutrition.


4. History.com Editors, “History of Chocolate,” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, December 14, 2017, https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-americas/history-of-chocolate.


5. Needleman, Joshua, “Chocolate for Health,” Health Coach Training Program, Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

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