What Is Cacao?

Understanding Super Foods: Cacao and Real Chocolate

Cacao is responsible for that far too delicious food group we know as chocolate, but in reality, it’s a lot more. In fact, in its purest form, it has health benefits that most people truly have no idea about whatsoever. So what exactly is it?

What Is It?

Cacao Tree

A Cacao tree with ripe pods. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma_cacao

Cacao is an evergreen tree that generally grows from 10 – 30 feet in height and is native to the tropical regions of the American continents. It is found naturally in the Amazon River Basin as well as the Orinoco River Basin, and can also be found bearing its “fruit” at the base of the Andes Mountain range in foothill elevations of 600 – 1300 ft. above sea level. It is widely accepted by many experts that the tree was native to Mexico, and brought wild to be cultivated in South America.

It is now farmed in many tropical nations. The largest commercial producer is the western African nation of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Ghana, Indonesia and the Philippines also cultivate a prominent amount of the product, and the Americas round out the majority of the commercial farming.

The fruit of the tree, known as the cacao pod, ripens to a hearty orange or yellow color, and weighs close to a pound. Within these pods, there is a load of seeds, which are generally referred to as beans. Each seed is made up of about 40 percent fat, which is typically extracted and called cocoa butter.

Cacao pod

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobroma_cacao

The Nib Craze

Is it true that Cacao Nibs, the peeled, crushed seeds/beans, are full of antioxidants? Antioxidants that rival super foods like blueberries, and many antioxidant-rich teas? Yes, it’s all true. As a matter of fact, the nib is also rich in good fat and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron and potassium. All that positive energy you’d get from drinking something like a Gatorade without the multiple grams of refined sugar.

You’ll also find a natural byproduct that is very much like caffeine. It has also been found that the natural MAO inhibitors found in these tasty morsels can suppress an overactive appetite.

The Taste

What do nibs taste like? Chocolatey and nutty. You can pick at it like granola, eat it by the spoonful like cereal or even grind it into your coffee. It can be sprinkled on ice-cream, or added to a smoothie.

If you’re intrigued, make sure you snag an organic variety of the nibs. Criollo cacao is the rarest of the organically produced varieties, and what you’d probably enjoy the most in your first sampling. You can generally find the goods for $10-15 a pound, depending on where you shop. These beans are definitely another example of nature’s candies.

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