Cacao is one of those elusive ingredients that I’ve dared not used up to this point. Many of my more experienced, sophisticated blog friends use it quite frequently in their dishes. Raw cacao cakes and fancy spelt cookies with cacao nibs – sounds dreamy and all, but my timid self couldn’t possibly brave those wild waters…right?
If you’re in the same boat as I am when it comes to cacao, what do you say we venture into these unchartered waters together and claim some of the delicious bounty for ourselves?
Cacao vs cocoa: For starters, there is a pretty big difference between cacao and cocoa. Cacao (pronounced kuh-cow) is the name of the actual tree that produces chocolate. Its species name is Theobroma cacao, which produces cacao seeds that are then dried and fermented. The end result is what we more commonly know as cocoa, which can then be processed into cocoa powder, cocoa butter or all kinds of chocolate.
In baking you may see a recipe that calls for cacao nibs, which are not as sweet at chocolate chips thus giving the recipe a more sophisticated, healthy appeal.
Health benefits: The health benefits of cacao are more abundant than that of chocolate since it is unprocessed and the vitamins and minerals are preserved in its raw state. Because of this cacao contains much higher levels of antioxidant flavanoids, which are extremely beneficial for fighting free radicals in the body. In fact, according to lifesuperfoods.com cacao contains the most antioxidants of any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and even black and green teas.
Cacao is also high in Omega 6 fatty acids, tryptophan and serotonin, as well as vitamins C, A, B, and E and phenethylamine – which provides that aphrodisiac effect commonly associated with chocolate consumption. Not to mention it’s loaded with copper, calcium, manganese, zinc, iron, amino acids and alkaloids, which promote physical and mental well-being.
Though chocolate is often thought of as an indulgent food, cacao is actually extremely healthy – considered a superfood even – as it’s the added milk, sugar and various other fillers that have adverse effects on the body such as weight gain. In addition, cacao is the highest whole food source of magnesium, which plays a vital role in relaxing muscles including the heart and cardiovascular system.
Nutritional statistics: 2.5 Tablespoons of raw cacao powder contains approximately 60 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar, and 3 grams protein.
Cooking methods: Because cacao comes in a variety of forms, including cacao powder, butter, beans, paste and nibs, there are many ways you can use it in cooking. Most commonly, however, is the use of it in baked goods in powdered and nib form, such as in place of chocolate chips or cocoa powder in a dessert recipe. A quick search of the web for cacao recipes will yield a bounty of new dishes to try. Here are just a few of our favorites.
Whole Wheat Cacao Nib Cookies with Spelt and Fleur de Sel from Vanilla Bean Blog
Raw Cacao Brownies from My New Roots
Raw Cacao Truffles from Oh, Lady Cakes
source: Secrets of Longevity