Saturday, July 12, 2008

Raw Cacao -- Pure Chocolate

I love Tilak's picture so much at the top of my last post, that I hate to write some more today and push it down the page. Oh well. Scroll down to see it (and to read about his yoga practice) if you haven't already).

I thought I'd write a little about raw cacao (chocolate in it's pure, raw form) -- not because I know a lot about it, but because I eat it pretty much daily and think it provides many health benefits. Not all raw foodists agree. Alissa Cohen said she tried it once and it gave her head such a buzz that she decided she'd rather use raw carob for her chocolate recipes instead. (I was going to say "chocolate fix" because that's what I'd call it, but I doubt she called it that, so I'll use more generic words :). But I did just see that she sells raw cacao on her website, so maybe she's changed her tune or is just providing it for others.

If you think I misspelled "cacao" and it's supposed to be "cocoa" or that they can be interchanged, you're wrong about the first one and partially correct about the second. Cacao is a the name of the plant in which all forms of chocolate are derived. The cacao pod is the fruit or berry of the Theobroma Cacao evergreen tree. The pods are removed and then roasted at a low heat and then turned into cacao nibs.

The cocoa most people buy at the store is the powder left after the nibs are ground into powder and the cocoa butter is separated out. Raw cacao powder is separated from the oil or cacao butter through a cold-pressing and cold-grounding process to preserve all the nutrients and enzymes. Sorry for that lengthy explanation, but I just thought I'd share that with you if you wanted to understand its origin.

Nutritional experts are telling us now that dark chocolate is healthy -- has essential anti-oxidants and all that. That's true, but raw cacao is the ultimate form for receiving those nutrients without getting all the other garbage that often accompanies chocolate products. Yes, they taste heavenly, but so do numerous raw chocolate recipes.

You can buy raw cacao in powder form, the actual beans or in little bits (chopped up beans) called nibs. I've also just learned that there's raw cacao butter available, which is the oil from the bean. I'm sure it's heavenly too, but also really expensive. For now, I'll stick with the nibs and powder.

The cacao nibs have the texture of little chocolate chips, but they are FAR less sweet. When I first ate one, I thought back to the times (yes, with an "s" -- I didn't learn from doing it once), I'd climb up into the top cupboard and take down that bar of unsweetened chocolate that my mom bought for baking. I was so excited to think that my mom had bought candy (she never bought what she called "junk") so this was indeed a treat. I'd take a bite and would just about spit it all over the kitchen. It was so bitter. Then I'd notice another bite mark on the other end. One of my brothers had made the same mistake. Probably children all over the land were expecting sweet and instead got bitter. This is how bitter the raw cacao is.

It's actually not so bad when you first bite into it, but if you have deep grooves in your molars and a few get stuck, you can savor it more and realize just how bitter it is. Raw foodists say you get used to it over time and I probably have. I use it with fruit more than just by itself. My favorite way to eat it are to break off pieces of banana one by one and dip the end into a little bowl of cacao nibs. It's like getting a chocolate covered banana from Disneyland (I remember getting one of those there as a child -- I think it was frozen though). My other favorite is to take strawberries and do the same -- dip them into the nibs (not like a fondue dip because it isn't melted, but just poking the little nibs into the fruit). It's as good as those chocolate covered strawberries at a wedding reception.

I eat these sometimes just for snacking purposes, but also for medicinal purposes. The "Theobroma" in the real name of the cacao plant or fruit is Theobromine, which is in the same chemical compound family as Caffeine and Theophylline. We all know what caffeine is (and chocolate is often said to contain caffeine -- now we know that it's similar, but not exactly the same, but you may not be familiar with Thephylline. I grew up taking it for my asthma in the form of a pill called Theodur. I think they stopped prescribing it over the last decade or so, but when I gathered all this information in my little brain, I realized that raw cacao might be a pure way to help me with asthma, should I have any problems.

The paradox is that when I'm eating raw I don't have asthma. But sometimes I get away from raw eating and my asthma comes back. Stupid me because it comes back in devastating ways. When that has happened and my medication hasn't been enough to help me to breathe and make it through the night, I've come down to the kitchen, eaten a little bowl of cacao nibs w/bananas or strawberries and have found relief (and the ability to breathe and sleep again). So it's been an extremely helpful natural remedy for me.

I use the cacao powder far more often. I use it more for that chocolate fix I'd mentioned earlier. I love cheesecake and I do love chocolate. When I make raw fudge, I get a bit of both -- that cheesecake-y texture and that chocolate satisfaction -- as well as some vital nutrients. I don't miss regular chocolate or desire any other desserts when I have my raw fudge on hand. (Here's the link to the post with the raw fudge recipe). I also make raw pudding that doubles as rocky road ice cream when I freeze it. I don't think I've posted that recipe. I'll make it tomorrow and will post the pic and write up the recipe. TTFN!


  1. Hi Renee,

    I was really happy to see your comments on asthma & cacao in your blog today. You have provided some confirmation of what my wife Moggie has just experienced. Moggie has had asthma for 20+ years and has just recently discovered that eating raw cacao daily clears up the symptoms. She can't quite believe it and has been trying to induce the symptoms - by sniffing cat fur for example! Doing this 2 months ago would have caused her to wheeze seriously and reach for the inhaler.

    Moggie doesn't eat a completely raw diet but she really looks after herself and eats in a very clean way; she food combines and her diet is vegan plus fish. As a health conscious person the use of steroid inhalers was anathema to her but she didn't seem to have a choice.

    We have experimented with making drinks with raw cacao powder with some success. What has made the difference for Moggie is eating 3 Xocai nuggets a day - made from cold pressed cacao mixed with acai & blueberries. They taste great and are low glycaemic so we can get our chocolate fix without the negative impact of eating regular chocolate. It’s like having an amazing anti-oxidant and anti-inflammation medicine that you really want to take! We haven't done masses of research on this yet but it seems that the anti-inflammatory action of cacao is what has made the difference to Moggie’s asthma.

    We live in the UK and Xocai has just launched here. It’s been in the US and Canada for nearly 4 years. It’s a great product – check out the 15 min video at for more information.

    All the best
    Mark Weston

  2. Wow - I really love the info about asthma. I had my first raw cacao yesterday - ( I had two drinks of it) and my asthma seemed much improved this morning. Maybe it the antioxidants and the magnesium?

    Maria Louisa