Forget everything you know about cacao (chocolate). For better or worse, corporations have taught us largely everything we have come to know about chocolate. When we hear the word chocolate, what comes to mind? We often have nostalgic thoughts and images of Hershey’s chocolate and/or hot chocolate (cocoa powder). Both of these products are a relatively new creation born only recently within the last 187 years during the height of the industrialized age. The invention of the cocoa press in 1828 opened the door to new products with long stable shelf lives that could be brought to the masses.
Prior to the industrialized age and throughout recorded history cacao (chocolate) has been consumed as a beverage. It was consumed most recently in chocolate houses throughout Europe during the 1600-1700s and even deemed important (sacred) enough for the church to issue declarations approving its usage during ritual fasts. Going back further in time archeological evidence suggests cacao usage and cultivation originating in Central and South America some 2000 + years ago (making it older than tea or coffee). Cacao played a very important part in the societies of the Olmec, Aztecs, Mayans, and et cetera of Mesoamerica. Each culture/region consumed the beverage differently albeit hot, cold, with spices, corn, and natural sweeteners.
It is important to make note how this ancient beverage was consumed for over 2000 years. First and foremost cacao pods would be harvested from trees and split open to remove cacao seeds (beans). The seeds would be removed from the white fleshy pulp and fermented in banana leaves or other large leaves for a few days (raw chocolate is a new invention of the industrialized era). After fermentation, the seeds would be dried typically in the sun/shade (similar to coffee beans). Next, the seeds would be ground on a stone metate (grindstone) to varying consistencies. The resulting cacao mass/paste would be mixed with water to form the base of the ancient beverage. The cacao mass would be cooked over heat with or without the addition of spices, chilies, corn, or sweeteners and often frothed with a special mixer to make a frothy head. This beverage was at first reserved only for high priests and then over time came to find a place for daily consumption for all members of society.
Lastly, lets try to answer why you should care about rediscovering and resurrecting this ancient way of thinking of cacao (chocolate). First, cacao naturally contains three healthy fats: Stearic acid, Oleic acid, and Palmitic Acid. The unique combination and interplay of saturated fats create a neutral affect on LDL and HDL cholesterol levels. Cacao also contains a chemical that is a close relative of caffeine called Theobromine (chocolate contains no caffeine). Thirdly, cacao consumption results in vasodilation (increased blood flow and widening of arteries/blood vessels). Fourth, cacao ranks among the top of ORAC charts for antioxidants (flavonoids). Analyzing just a few of the many health and nutritional benefits we can see why this drink was so popular and held the appeal of the masses since the dawn of its discovery. It is akin to what is popular today such as bone broth, Tibetan tea (yak butter + tea), or Bulletproof coffee (butter + coconut oil + coffee). It is one of the only complete foods on the planet that has both natural occurring healthy fats and caffeine.
These have been fermented, dried, and lighted roasted to perfection. Eat a few everyday. They travel well and do not melt. They are great in the morning with coffee (helps mitigate the vasoconstriction of coffee on the blood vessels). Also, great before any physical activity to increase blood flow (great for cardiovascular health). They also have a natural kick from a molecule called Theobromine (a derivative of caffeine). These are a great health alternative for vegans, diabetics, individual with autoimmune disorders, and individuals who follow the paleo/primal lifestyle. It should be noted that these beans are not predominately bitter like their Forastero counterparts. Trinatario and Criollo cacao typically have more interesting tastes and aromas on the palate.
GROUND CACAO BEANS (NIBS)
This is the ground version of our cacao beans. Cacao beans are not easy to grind with their thick outer shell, so we have to pre-crack the beans before we can lightly grind the beans. This product should not be confused with nibs, which lack the shell or husk. We incorporate the shell/husk because it has been used this way for thousands of years and lends more flavor and micronutrients. It can be used in coffee if you are looking to be a little more bulletproof. It’s also equally a great addition to juices and smoothies. It can be used to replace chocolate chips and a great addition to any bread or muffin recipe. A few more popular uses include: breakfast cereals, yogurt, and ice cream. Lastly, it can be used traditionally as a powerful and healthy beverage to start your mornings or keep you running throughout the day.
This is the outside shell or husk of the cacao seed (bean). It has a long tradition as being used as a tea in Central and South American. It was used in large part for micronutrients and health. It has a mild chocolate flavor, nothing akin to modern day rich hot chocolate. It is a milder version of cacao. Find more information on cacao tea.
100% CACAO (CHOCOLATE)
There are two available options: cacao paste and tasting/baking chocolate. The former is lightly stone ground to a rudimentary paste akin to Mexican chocolate (minus the sugar). It can be used to make the traditional ancient drinking chocolate. It is less processed, than its counter partner which is stoneground and conched for a few days to create a smooth silky chocolate popularized throughout Europe at the turn of the century. This is best used for fine confections, ganaches, or just nibbling.