In Honor of Cacao – Love & Medicine
No food is quite as seductive as chocolate... More than even a superfood, it could rightfully be dubbed a bliss-food. Objectively speaking, it's not much to look at though. Imagine you came from another planet and were presented with a chocolate bar... after unwrapping the sparkly foil, you'd likely be perplexed and wonder what all the fuss was about. Plain. Brown. A slight shimmer. Chocolate isn't nearly as visually exciting as say, a rainbow chard or purple heirloom tomato. And yet, what makes chocolate so captivating has little to do with looks. It's all about feelings. One taste offers a luscious sense of wellbeing that mirrors love. Since chocolate casts an alluring spell on those who dare take a bite, it's viewed through a sensory lens, as an object of desire.
Naturally, chocolate has supernatural roots. In addition to its vast medicinal properties, throughout the ages, it was believed to possess otherworldly powers. As early as 460 AD, cocoa was revered as “the food of the Gods,” with heart opening effects. Thousands of years ago, the Mayan's worshipped the “Cocoa Spirit” and would perform sacred ceremonies and rituals in the deity's honor. Its raw form, cacao, originates from fruit of the theobroma cacao tree; it's then sold as nibs, beans, or ground into a fine powder, much like cocoa. Highly prized as a delicacy, the Mayans once traded cacao beans as currency. According to the World Cocoa Foundation, it was the Spanish Conquistadors who appropriated cacao as a drink, sweetening the bitter brew with sugar and spices, reclaiming it as a luscious aphrodisiac with health benefits.
Today cacao is recognized for its abundance of health benefits; it's loaded with polyphenols, and minerals, including copper, calcium, zinc and iron; the flavonoids have skin antioxidant properties. Cacao is also anti-inflammatory, may offer nerve protection, and can be a mood enhancer. And if that isn't impressive enough, cacao has also been studied for its link to lower risk of heart disease, improved cognitive function, and may lessen anxiety.
So why does eating chocolate feel so good? In a way, you might say that cacao contains an organic happiness cocktail of plant based compounds. Theobromine, (a bitter alkaloid) stimulates and also relaxes. Tryptophan, (found in small amounts) helps the brain create serotonin, which generates joyful feelings. Additionally, there are also small amounts of caffeine in cacao and chocolate that offer a mood lift. Since store bought chocolate is often heavily blended and processed (fermented and roasted), you might wonder: is a chocolate bar really healthy? Percentages of cacao in chocolate bars vary greatly. In contrast, raw cacao keeps much of its nutritional content intact. And if you've ever tasted cacao, you may be pleasantly surprised by how flavorful it is. Luckily, cacao powder can be substituted in most, if not all, recipes that call for unsweetened chocolate powder with some minor adjustments: cacao will absorb more liquid than chocolate powder, and cacao will be acidic, unlike cocoa.
Mesh the medicinal with the spiritual, and perform your own cacao ritual.
DIY Cacao Ceremony
(yields 2 cups)
Bring a half cup spring water, and 2 tablespoons cacao powder to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce flame to simmer and stir until dissolved. Add ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger, a dash of ground clove, continue to stir and simmer. Blend 1 ½ cups almond, cow, coconut, or oat milk.
As you stir, draw awareness to your breath; inhale into your belly. Slowly exhale, and give silent thanks to nature for providing her bounty. Just before the brew comes to a boil, shut off the fire. Pour the mixture into a ceramic bowl or cup. If you wish, add sweetener of your choice.
In a quiet undisturbed setting, cup the cacao in your hands. Feel its warmth spread up through your arms, filling your body with pure light. Take a deep inhale of the brew. When you are ready, take a sip... Experience its flavor sparking your taste buds. Close your eyes as you swallow. Imagine the potion opening up your heart chakra. See colors of green and pink. Envision your creative energy flowing freely. As you meditate on the cacao, focus on generating feelings of love and wellbeing toward yourself and others.
When it comes to integrating cacao into your diet, be mindful not to overdo. Add a teaspoon to your morning coffee. Sprinkle a bit on almond butter, yogurt, and smoothies. For recipes, see Simple Vegan's Blog, 3 ingredient raw cacao bites and 12 healthy cacao recipes, from Hummusapien. To learn more about the history of chocolate read, Chocolate, Food of the Gods, by Cornell University.