The Short Answer: Dried cacao beans are ground until the fat, or butter, separates from the rest of the bean. The end result is a finely ground cacao powder on one hand, and cacao butter on the other. Don't get cacao confused with cocoa – there's a slight difference.
A History of Chocolate
The average American consumes almost 12 pounds of chocolate in a year. You may not know it by looking at it, but that little bar of chocolate has a rich history dating back as early as 600 B.C. The Olmec civilization offers us the first evidence of chocolate consumption, with archeological evidence of a paste made from the dried and ground seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. This tradition continued to Mayan and Aztec civilizations, who made a frothy, bitter beverage by mixing this paste with water (or wine), and often added chilis, allspice, honey, or vanilla to the brew. This drink, xocolatl, or chocol, was cherished for its magical properties, and played an important role in sacred rituals and celebrations. Aztec King Montezuma was said to drink 50 cups a day from a golden vessel. The beans from the Theobroma cacao tree (latin for “Food of Gods”) were used as currency in these Meso-American civilizations for centuries. Spanish invaders brought these beans back to Europe in the 1500s, where they slowly evolved into the chocolate we know today.
Where is Cacao Grown?
Today, this ancient tree proliferates in lowland tropical forests. Preferring moist, shaded areas, the Theobroma thrives under the heavy rainforest canopies in South America, and is also cultivated in East Africa and Indonesia. There are three main varieties of Theobroma cacao trees, each producing a bean with distinct flavor and aroma profiles.
How Does the Seed of the Cacao Tree Become Chocolate?
The pod of the cacao tree contains seeds we call cacao beans. After removing these beans from the pods, beans are set out to ferment for several days, allowing chemical changes to take place that develops a rich chocolate flavor and reduce the natural bitterness. The beans are then dried in the sun, developing the color and further flavor, before they are further processed into different cacao products.
In ancient times, the beans would be ground into the aforementioned paste, then used to create a beverage. Today, beans are still ground, but for a different purpose. The beans are ground until the fat, or butter, separates from the solid matter. The end result is finely ground cacao powder and cacao butter.
Melting cacao butter and re-introducing cacao powder, with the addition of various sweeteners and often milk, brings us the chocolate that we all know and recognize today. Unfortunately, the chocolate most of us consume and that is readily available in the stores is more sugars, sweeteners, milk, and chemical additives than it is real chocolate. The benefits the Aztecs, Olmecs, and Mayans knew cacao possessed are lost in these chemical and sugar laden “chocolate” bars available to us today.
Health Benefits of Cacao Powder
Cacao powder can be a tasty and beneficial part of your diet. Cacao powder is a rich source of valuable compounds including antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Cacao has more antioxidants than blueberries, red wine, or green tea
Cacao contains essential minerals such as magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese
Cacao contains theobromine, a phytochemical also found in tea that supports healthy blood pressure levels, relax muscles in the lungs, and have both stimulating and relaxing properties
Cacao powders and products that are raw and certified organic will offer the best of these beneficial compounds, ensuring you receive the most of the beneficial compounds and enzymes present in their most natural states.
How to Use Cacao Powder
Cacao powder can be used to create your own chocolate at home, for baking, molding, and melting. This is not its only use, however.
Cacao powder can be added to smoothies, to provide a rich chocolate flavor.
Add cacao powder to nut milk for a dairy and sugar free chocolate milk, and spice it up with chili and vanilla for a drink that would make the Aztecs proud.
Want a frozen chocolate pop that will satisfy on a hot summer day? Blend cacao powder with raw almond butter and almond milk, then and freeze the liquid in popsicle molds.
Sprinkle cacao powder on top of plain yogurt.
Create a healthy chocolate “ice cream” by combining cacao powder and frozen banana pieces in a food processor or blender until creamy.
What's Special About Live Superfoods Organic Cacao Powder?
At Live Superfoods we only offer raw cacao powder, meaning the beans were dried at temperatures under 118 degrees F and processed under that temp as well.
All our cacao products are USDA-certified organic and non-GMO.
We source cacao products, such as cacao nibs, powder, and butter from Ecuador and Peru. Like wine, different varieties and growing regions result in cacao beans with different flavors and aromas. And, like wine, tasting these subtle nuances can be just as fun! Here is some awesome information about the different types of cacao beans.
Our USDA-certified organic, raw cacao
Our Live Superfoods Peruvian Cacao Powder is the Arriba Nacional variety, and it possesses an almost floral aroma and a deep rich flavor that would turn any chocolate creation into a gourmet masterpiece.