The Mayans were the first civilization to cultivate the cocoa tree called Xocoatl. It is part of the Mayan and Aztec legends that the cocoa bean was a gift from the Gods. Cocoa beans were so important in Mayan civilization, they were also used as currency. I can understand why. When you stop eating commercial chocolate and replace it with homemade chocolate from pure cacao butter and cacao powder, you really begin to appreciate the purity of this substance.
Pure Cacao Butter
Cocoa butter has a high content of saturated fats mainly derived from stearic and palmitic acids as well as mono-unsaturated fats from oleic acids. Cocoa butter is obtained from whole cacao beans, which are fermented, may or may not be roasted, and then separated from their hulls. About 54 – 58% of the residue is cocoa butter. The Broma process is a process by which the cocoa fat is dripped out of the solid mass leaving the cocoa powder separated out.
The purest chocolate comes from organic food grade cacao butter. This fatty component of chocolate is 100% fat and without the cacao powder, it is legal on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which allows no starches. Cacao butter imbues a mild chocolate flavor to any baked product. Many goodies can be made that are satisfying to chocolate lovers.
Pure Cacao Powder
Cocoa solids are the low-fat component of chocolate. They may also be called cocoa powder, cocoa, and cacao. Cocoa liquor is the melted combination of cocoa butter and cocoa solids. This is what most chocolate is made from.
Cocoa solids are what lends a chocolate bar its characteristic flavor and color, while cocoa butter is what provides smoothness and a low melting point. Cocoa solids contain most of the antioxidants associated with chocolate. Cocoa solids also contain the greatest concentration of the psychoactive chemicals caffeine and theobromine, which are mostly absent in the cocoa butter.
Physiological Effects of Cacao
There is a clear physiological reason for the love of chocolate. Raw cacao promotes the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and phenylethylamine, which elevate the mood. It also stimulates the secretion of endorphins — feel good hormones which also reduce pain. This can be dangerous for some people who have an imbalance in their physiology (or their gut) because it puts them at risk for an addiction to chocolate.
The combination of the caffeine energy burst and the release of serotonin can have a very powerful effect on the brain. You may know someone who needs to have chocolate every day because they need this lift.
Health Properties of Cacao
Raw cacao is touted as a rich source of antioxidant flavonoids and polyphenols that promote health and protect against toxins. The antioxidant flavonoids in raw cacao can help improve circulation, regular heartbeat and blood pressure. Additionally, they help the body resist free-radical damage.
Raw cacao is considered a superfood by some because it also has several other beneficial nutrients. It is a good source of manganese, magnesium and sulfur.
For the folks who are raw foodists, the issue of raw vs. roasted is important. Possibly there is more nutrition benefit in the form of minerals in the raw version. However, as chocolate should not be considered an everyday food, but rather a treat for special occasions I do not think the nutrient content in raw cacao as opposed to roasted will make much of a difference in your life. Frankly, I think the roasted may be better as it is may reduce the phytate content a bit.
As far as I know, all cacao is fermented before any other processing.
Stephan Guyenet has posted an interesting article about the Kuna Indians of Panama who eat/drink cacao on a regular basis. There are several studies cited in this article in the International Journal of Medical Sciences that strongly suggest that the cacao drink that the Kuna daily drink may help to improve blood vessel function, lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain which may aid in cognition and memory issues. The Kuna have unusually low rates of hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
It is not clear if the Kuna cacao drink is made from raw or roasted cacao and that is something I would like to know.
Making Homemade Chocolate Can Be Very Simple
To avoid all the sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup (here and here), and other additives like soy lecithin, in commercial chocolate you can make your own at home very easily. It is simply a combination of cacao butter and cacao powder and a sweetener of your choice.
In this recipe I used honey (and stevia to reduce the honey content) because that will make it GAPS legal. If you would like to use maple syrup or some other natural sweetener, go right ahead — except for agave — read about why I never use agave, or sugar.
Be sure to purchase only organic, food grade, pure cacao butter and powder. If it is fair trade — even better. Check out why I never buy most fair trade commercial chocolate.
Finally, lets keep in mind that , as I said above, this should be considered a treat for special occasions — like Valentine’s Day.
- 1 cup cocoa butter (where to buy)
- 1 cup cocoa powder (where to buy)
- ¼ cup honey (where to buy)
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 1/8 tsp stevia ( may be omitted if strict GAPS)
- Small pot
- 8 x 8 baking dish
- Parchment cut to fit the bottom of the dish
- Gently melt the cocoa butter over a double boiler or on #2 in a small pot
- Remove from heat as soon as melted (if you leave too long it will get bitter)
- Add the honey (add stevia if using) and whisk well for a few minutes until it looks very smooth
- Whisk in the cocoa powder, getting out all the lumps until it looks very smooth
- Pour the chocolate into the baking dish and give a little shake to even out the edges
- Place in the refrigerator or freezer to harden for several hours
- When hard, remove from dish by cutting around the edge with a butter knife if necessary — it should slip out very easily
- Let get to room temperature and cut pieces with a large knife
- Store in the refrigerator
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Heat Time 2 – 3 minutes
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