The Aztecs gave Cacao the name "yollotl eztli," meaning "heart blood", indicating that they may have understood, even then, the heart-benefiting aspects of Cacao. Cacao is the highest wholefood source of the mineral magnesium – an extremely important mineral that is sadly lacking in modern diets. It helps to regulate heart rhythm, co-ordinating the activity of the heart muscle and the nerves that initiate heartbeat. Low magnesium levels can cause heart palpitations and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
Magnesium also helps to keep the coronary arteries from having spasms that can cause the intense chest pains known as angina. It is relatively well known that a deficiency in magnesium is the most common cause of these spasms.
Also keeping blood pressure in check, magnesium relaxes the muscles that control blood vessels, allowing the blood to flow more freely. This can help to reduce high blood pressure – an important factor in decreasing the risk of a heart attack of stroke. Magnesium’s effect on high blood pressure is further enhanced because it helps equalize the levels of potassium and sodium in the blood.
Cacao is also a powerhouse of antioxidants, in particular “procyanidin” which is said to be effective in preventing heart disease and strokes. Other phytonutrients include “epicatechin” that can provide heart benefits including; decreased platelet aggression, decreased oxidative stress, decreased LDL oxidation and increased antioxidant capacity.
Organic, untreated or Raw Cacao is an unbeatable mood enhancer due to the abundance of feel good phytonutrients it contains. Theobromine exerts a positive influence on mood and the presence of the neurochemical "phenylethylamine" enhances feelings of contentment. Cacao also contains the recently discovered messenger molecule, "anandamide" - also known as the "bliss molecule" and named for the Sanskrit word for bliss and joy.
The combination of mood boosting vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in Cacao is able to trigger the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Not only that, Cacao is one of the highest known sources of the miracle mineral magnesium, with symptoms of magnesium deficiency manifesting as depression, irritability and anxiety - all reversible with magnesium repletion.
Cacao is also a valuable source of iron – in fact it is the highest plant based source of non-heme iron on the planet. Iron is crucial to red blood cell production so Cacao can help to fight anaemic symptoms. Maintaining adequate levels of iron is a delicate balance. Your body is significantly better at moderating the absorption of nonheme iron from plant based sources such as Cacao.
Cacao is an extremely antioxidant-rich superfood. The powder contains an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score of 95,500 µmol per 100g. To put these numbers in perspective, goji berries (the highest non-cacao source of antioxidants) score 25,300, acai berries score 18,500, and blueberries - famous for their antioxidant content - score 2,400.
Many of the antioxidants present in Cacao are flavonoids, including anthocyanidin. Like all antioxidants, these flavonoids are intimately involved in the prevention of free radical damage, but they also have a central role in boosting collagen production, providing many anti-aging benefits too.
Folklore and history
The Maya believed that the kakaw (cacao) was discovered by the gods in a mountain that also contained other delectable foods to be used by the Maya. According to Maya mythology, the Plumed Serpent gave cacao to the Maya after humans were created from maize by the divine grandmother goddess Xmucane. The Maya celebrated an annual festival in April to honour their cacao God Ek Chuah.
In a similar creation story, the Mexican (Aztec) god Quetzalcoatl discovered cacao (cacahuatl: "'bitter water"'), in a mountain filled with other plant foods. Cacao was offered regularly to a pantheon of Aztec deities and the Madrid Codex depicts priests lancing their ear lobes (autosacrifice) and covering the cacao with blood as a suitable sacrifice to the gods.
In its earliest forms, the Mayans used cacao to create a ritual beverage that was shared during betrothal and marriage ceremonies, providing one of the first known links between chocolate and romance.
Literally meaning “Food of the Gods”, Theobroma Cacao has been around for so long that historians are not sure when the domestication of this delicious bean actually began. It is a part of the Mayan Creation Myth and is revered in South America as being of divine origin.
Traditional uses are many and range from reducing fever to improving heart strength, treatment of kidney disorders and to increase appetite. It was thought to be nourishing, digestion improving, life lengthening and health preserving. Leaves from the flower were even used to treat skin problems such as burns and stomach complaints.
How much of me should you take? As much as you like - Cacao has a slightly bitter taste on its own but if mixed with something sweet such as a Banana, Bee Pollen or Goji Berries the unmistakable taste of strong dark chocolate begins to reveal itself.
Sprinkle onto cereal, yogurts, deserts, blend into a smoothie or simply nibble on the nibs.
Cacao contains over 300 identifiable chemical compounds, and is high in magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, chromium, tryptophan, phytochemicals and antioxidants.