Ceremonial Cacao: Where Chocolate Begins
I’ve always been conscious of what I eat, careful of processed foods and the hidden ingredients in the things we buy. I don’t profess to be a purist by any means, but I think it’s important to understand what we do to ourselves. After all, we only have one body to get us through life and keeping it well maintained seems to be the best option.
My younger years certainly weren’t a paradigm of healthy eating – Coke and chocolate for breakfast – but I weaned myself off fizzy drinks at 13 after watching a video which showed Coke dissolving teeth overnight. That was 40 years ago, and current YouTube videos and debunked myths tell us it doesn’t do this (at least any longer does). The results of leaving teeth in it are still not encouraging, despite claims that “you swallow it quickly so your teeth are safe.” At the end of the day, that chemical mixture is having its own fun with your insides. I’ve also had my fair share of pizzas, kebabs, burgers, fried chicken and all manner of satisfying (but less beneficial) things to eat but, in the main, I choose healthy options.
Recently I have been delving further into different topics and, despite enjoying chocolate, started to distance myself from the sugar that’s used to make it. I chose darker bars with a higher cacao percentage but some brands left a funny aftertaste, despite nothing being explicit on the label. Maybe it was the cacao itself? Its origin? Its processing? How it was grown?
I needed to know, so sought out Ceremonial Cacao, a style of cacao which honours the bean as more than just an organic crop, but as a spiritual elder. I guess it’s about as pure as you can get, but I’ve always had a little woo-woo in me 🙂 Techniques such as agroforestry, biodynamic harvesting, natural soil inoculation, intercropping and more all feature in the growing. And the connection with the Mayan ideals also appealed to me, having looked into the Maya civilisation a long time ago in my personal studies.
With 300-1200 individual constituents, cacao is one of the most pharmacologically complex plant substances known to man. When consumed unsweetened or with very little sugar, it is a superfood, packed with beneficial minerals and neuro modulators that beneficially affect our state of mind. The mild bitterness of a ceremonial cacao drink can also serve to cleanse the liver or release emotions, and the alkaloid content of pure cacao boosts circulation and absorption of nutrients.
Pure cacao is packed with magnesium. Magnesium is chronically deficient in the majority of western diets, and cacao is the highest naturally occurring source. Magnesium is used in all key brain functions, especially memory and concentration. It is also beneficial for the function of the heart, acting to relax blood vessels and decrease strain. Besides magnesium, cacao is also the highest naturally occurring source of chromium, and also high in copper, calcium, manganese, zinc, sulphur, iron, and phosphorous.
Regularly working with ceremonial-grade cacao can have therapeutic health benefits, including creating new neural pathways that change our daily experience to include more joy, love, and connection. Pure cacao contains beneficial neurotransmitters and neuro-modulators already present in our brain, most notably including:
- Norepinephrine (the joy molecule)
- Serotonin (anti-stress)
- Dopamine (motivation, pleasure)
- Anandamide (the bliss molecule)
- Phenylethylamine (excitement, alertness, attention)
It’s a whole food, so goes further than cacao powder. The cacao paste in ceremonial-grade cacao still contains cacao butter from the source which cacao powder does not. Although cacao powder is still good, it has good fats removed.
Cacao also contains theobromine, an alkaloid in the methylxanthine class of compounds, which also contain caffeine, mateine, and more. Theobromine is a cardiac stimulant (as opposed to caffeine which is a nervous system stimulant) and it relaxes blood vessels, together producing an effect of 30-40% higher blood circulation. This improves absorption of other important nutrients in cacao or other superfoods that it is paired with. Theobromine is only about one quarter as stimulating as caffeine, and it has a much longer half-life in the liver, meaning that its effect on the body is softer and longer.
A vital ingredient?
My first experience with this form of pure cacao was enlightening. I have tried cacao powder before and it was very bitter and not a pleasant experience. However, ceremonial cacao is much smoother and, although not sweet like chocolate (see my thoughts on sugar here), yields the most benefits, tastes good and doesn’t come with any of the guilt!
Here’s to sampling more varieties! I have a feeling ceremonial cacao will become a feature in my future, although shipping it from the US in small quantities is not the most ideal of methods.