Where my chocolate lovers at?! If you fancy yourself a chocolate person, you’ve probably heard that chocolate contains heaps of antioxidants and other healthful properties that make it worth including in your diet. And if you’re anything like most people I know (myself, included) you’ve likely used this fact to justify a piece (or two!) of chocolate or an indulgent dessert.
Ain’t no shame in that my friends! Everything you’ve heard about chocolate is true, but—you could tell there was a “but” coming couldn’t you? (wink)—it’s important to recognize that the health benefits are attributed to the amount of cacao powder found in the chocolate. The key to getting the most nutrition from chocolate is to consume it in its least adulterated form possible: raw cacao powder or cacao nibs because. This is where the real magic is found.
I’m not telling you to give up your Hershey’s kisses—wait. Actually yeah I am telling you to stop eating run-of-the-mill chocolate bars and products because not only you can do so, so much better, you’ll be getting so much more out of making the switch to nutritious, antioxidant-rich cacao (or at the very least, chocolate made with exceptionally high percentages of it)!
The Curated Kitchen
RAW CACAO POWDER & CACAO NIBS
THE BACKGROUND //
Cacao trees only grow and thrive within 20 degrees north and south of the equator, which is part of why it is considered such a valuable commodity. Most of the world’s cacao beans comes from Africa or Brazil with a smaller percentage being sourced from Cost Rica and Venezuela.
The process of making cacao powder and chocolate begins with harvesting the beans, which are then sorted and cleaned before being roasted. The roasting process is what brings out the characteristic chocolate flavor and aroma. However, raw cacao powder is produced by cold-pressing unroasted cocao beans a process that keeps the enzymes intact. Thus raw cocao powder is considered to be more nutritious than its roasted form (i.e. regular cocoa or Dutch process cocoa powder).
After being roasted, the beans are cooled and then the nibs are separated from the shells. The nibs contain about 53 percent cocoa butter and they are pressed on a granite machine called a mélangeur, which turns the nibs into a thick paste that is then liquefied into chocolate liqueur (simply liquid chocolate not to be confused with an alcohol product). At this point, the chocolate liquer will either be hardened into unsweetened bitter chocolate or the cocoa butter will be extracted to form pure cocoa butter and raw cocao powder.
Pieces of husked cocoa beans. It is considered pure chocolate and has a very bitter yet slightly sweet flavor.
Raw Cacao Powder
Unroasted, cold-pressed pure cocao powder with less than 10 percent cocoa butter
Vegetable fat extracted from cocoa beans. Cocoa butter is added back to cocao powder in varying degrees to produce the different types of chocolate bar and chocolate products.
Products labeled as unsweetened or bitter should only contain cocoa butter and cocao or cocoa powder without adding sugar. This type is also called baking chocolate since recipes will often call for sugar elsewhere in the recipe and it allows for better control of the sweetness in the final baked good.
This is cacoa powder (so the kind that’s been made from heat roasted cacao beans) that’s had the cocoa butter added back in along with milk, sugar, and other flavoring agents (natural or synthetic depending on the manufacturers), as well as stabilizers and other additives (again, depending on the brand). It also only has to be 10 percent cacao, which is pretty low.
Of all types of chocolate bars, this is the least nutritious. It’s essentially made from cocoa butter, milk solids, sugar, and other flavors like vanilla. Technically, it’s not considered true chocolate at all.
By law, it must contain at least 35 percent pure cacao powder to be labeled as such.
Dutch Process or European Style Cocoa Powder
These cocoas have been alkalized, which means that they’ve had the naturally occurring acids removed to give them a milder flavor. They are also often treated with high heat during the roasting process.
WHY YOU NEED IT //
Raw cacao powder and cacao nibs are some of the most nutritious foods on the planet a.k.a. LEGIT.
They are exceptionally high in antioxidants and proanthocyanidin flavonoids, which can help prevent and repair cellular damage. The antioxidants in cacao are actually more powerful than those found in acai, berries, or goji berries. Basically it’s the original, if not the most super, superfood.
Cacao is also an amazing source of resveratrol, the same potent antioxidant found in red wine. It’s been shown to help lower and reduce LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol) in the body via polyphenols. Phenylethylamine found in cacao can help boost mood naturally and it’s this compound along with theobromine that gives cacao its aphrodisiac quality.
If you have ever said that you’re addicted to chocolate, it’s likely due to theobromine. This compound is a stimulant and has been known to have addictive qualities. Similar to caffeine, chocolate can trigger nervous-type symptoms gastrointestinal discomfort, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, hyperactivity in children, and mood swings. Of course, not everyone will experience some or any of these symptoms but they are reportedly possible. And for most of us, the benefits of cacao consumption far outweigh the risks, right?
So even if you don’t L-O-V-E chocolate, it’s still worth finding ways to sneak in a bit of raw cacao powder or nibs into your diet (read on for suggestions!).
NUTRITION HIGHLIGHTS //
Raw cacao is rich in magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and iron.
Serving Size: 2 1/2 tablespoons
Calories: 50 calories
Fat: 1.5 g
Saturated Fat: 0 g
Sugars: 0 g
Fiber: 2.5 g
Carbohydrates: 7.5 g
Protein: 2.5 g
WAYS TO EAT ‘IT //
I’m fairly certain I don’t have to tell you all how to eat chocolate (come on), but I know eating cacao powder and cacao nibs can feel a bit foreign. It is also going to be much different than you might expect if you’re used to eating super sweet chocolate chips or other chocolate products, which usually have loads of added sugar and additives. But for the most part, you can use cacao much like you would regular cocoa powder and the nibs in place of chocolate chips.
Smoothies. Add a tablespoon of raw cacao powder to a smoothie to give an antioxidant and flavor boost.
Smoothie Bowls. Add a tablespoon of cacao nibs on top to decorate and add nutrients.
Baked Goods. Use interchangeably with cocoa powder in baked recipes…Like my paleo double dark chocolate zucchini muffins. Yes, some of the nutrients will be diminished when baked due to the high heat but overall it’s still my go-to chocolate flavoring. Sprinkle nibs on top of baked goods or chocolate recipes.
Granola. Makes a great flavoring to your homemade blends.
Oatmeal and Porridge. Add both cacao nibs and/or raw cacao powder to soaked oat porridge or oatmeal to give your breakfast a chocolate kick.
Trail Mix. A handful of cacao nibs in a batch of homemade trail mix is a much more nutritious choice than say, chocolate coated candies.
Yogurt. Sprinkle both raw cacao or cacao nibs into whole fat yogurt for a snack.
Ants on a Log. A grown-up version of everyone’s favorite kids snack! Simply slather some celery sticks or green apple wedges with any nut butter of your liking and sprinkle on cacao nibs!
Dry Meat Rub. Combine raw cacao powder with other herbs and spices to lend meats a super unique flavor and crust.
Coconut or Banana Ice Cream Topping. Sprinkle away!
PB&N. Forget the jelly. Make yourself a delicious PB&N! Simple spread whatever nut butter you use onto a slice of gluten-free bread and add the nibs.
Chocolate Avocado Mousse. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! Simply combine a few avocados with raw cacao, honey or maple syrup, sea salt, and a splash of nut milk and whip it up in a food processor. You’ll fool even the most skeptical taste testers!
Chocolate Flavored Nut Milks. Simply stir a few tablespoons of raw cacao powder into a glass of homemade nut milk for a nutrient-rich drink or to add some flavor to a bowl of oats, paleo cereal, or chia pudding.
Raw Fudge. A sinful concoction of nut butter, cacao, sweetener, nuts, and coconut oil that is too good to be true.
Homemade Chocolates & Almond Butter Cups. My recipe for Salted Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups will make you a believer.
Energy Globes. Also known as energy bites, balls, snacks, etc. You know the little round treats made with dates, nuts, and other goodies! I’ve also got a delicious recipe for these I’ll be sharing here (I know I’m such a tease!).
SHOP SMART //
Since cacao is a highly sought after product that is only produced in a few regions of the world, it’s important to consider the ethical practices of the companies that sell it. Unfortunately there is a lot of corruption in the chocolate trade. Look for organic, fair trade certified cacao products to ensure that the farmers were fairly compensated, farming practices were sound, and that there was no slave or child labor involved in its production. You can learn more about the Fair Trade Certified Cocoa process and search for companies and manufacturers that participate here.
TIPS + ADVICE //
There is some evidence that dairy may actually inhibit the absorption of the antioxidants in cacao. If you are making a smoothie, shake, or frozen dessert with cacao, opt for a non-dairy nut milk or coconut milk.
Heating by baking or cooking with raw cacao may or may not reduce its antioxidant properties. There isn’t enough research to conclusively say one way or another at this point. Don’t let it keep you from baking with it because there are still inherent benefits to consuming it, simply make an effort to eat it raw, too.
If you are sensitive to caffeine, try consuming it earlier in the day (i.e. in your morning oats or smoothie). Most raw cacao powder will have about 40-45 mg caffeine per 14 grams, which is about 2.5 tablespoons.
So go ahead and get your chocolate fix on, friends!