How to best enjoy and buy delicious, healthy chocolate, with its fascinating healing history
Chocolate has been enjoyed for centuries and used to cure many illnesses. Cocoa is grown in tropical countries and can be eaten as raw cacao, hot chocolate, candy and baked goods. Purchasing chocolate that is organic and certified fair trade ensures ethical treatment of cocoa producers plus higher nutritional content.
Medicinal uses of chocolate through the centuries
The medicinal use of cocoa in North America and Europe dates back to the 16th century. Scholars have discovered that, for hundreds of years, the beverage called chocolate was administered to sick patients and used to prevent illness. Beginning in the 1500’s, there is documented use of cacao to treat fatigue, fever, emaciation, exhaustion, poor bowel function, anemia, kidney stones and tuberculosis.
Recent discoveries of cocoa health benefits
The recent discovery of the beneficial phenolic compounds in cocoa has created tremendous interest in cocoa’s health benefits. Cocoa has been touted for its great antioxidant powers, along with its potential to help with blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and aging. A search of pub med reveals thousands of studies on cocoa’s healing powers.
Hundreds of chemical compounds exist in cacao including alkaloids and flavonoids. One alkaloid, theobromine, works as a mood enhancer and lowers blood pressure. Cocoa also provides nutritious magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, potassium and zinc.
Cacao beans contain phytic acid which inhibits absorption of minerals, but fermentation, roasting and baking destroys these phytates.
Where cocoa/cacao comes from and why two words
Both words cocoa and cacao are used to refer to the plant from which chocolate derives. Cacao is believed to be the original word, but was misspelled as cocoa. New raw enthusiasts are rebirthing the word cacao to differentiate healthier raw cacao from roasted cocoa.
Two-thirds of cocoa trees are grown on small farms in Mexico, South America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands with the remaining coming from large plantations in Brazil and Malaysia.
Why fair trade, organic cacao is best
Chocolate that is certified as Fair-Trade or Rainforest Alliance Certified ensures fair wages and treatment of cacao growers. This is important considering that chocolate is often harvested by children under hazardous conditions. Even worse is the fact that thousands of young children are kept on cacao farms as slaves.
The cacao crop receives more pesticides than any other besides cotton. The tropical climate required for cacao trees to grow is home to a multitude of pests. Conventional growers also use a tremendous amount of chemical fertilizers. Methyl bromide has long been used to kill insects on cacao. This poison is highly toxic, carcinogenic and depleting of the earth’s ozone layer. By contrast, organic cacao is hermetically sealed, causing insects to suffocate over a period of weeks.
How to enjoy your chocolate
Chocolate can be enjoyed in candy, baked goods, drinks, and various cooked and raw recipes. The creative uses are limitless, left only to one’s imagination.
Most individuals enjoy cocoa in the form of a chocolate confection or candy. The higher the percentage of cocoa solids the healthier the chocolate candy bar will be. As an example, a typical Hershey’s milk chocolate bar contains 11 percent cacao and 89 percent sugar, cacao butter, lactose, milk fat, soy lecithin, polyglycerol, polyricinoleate and artificial flavors. A bar of fair trade Alter Eco 85% Dark Blackout Organic chocolate contains 85 percent organic cacao with the remaining 15 percent comprised of cacao butter and sugar. Organic products preclude the use of dangerous GMOs and many artificial ingredients.
Buy fair trade, organic chocolate with a high cocoa percentage to support ethical treatment of cocoa growers and ensure a higher nutritional value. To increase the nutritional power further, purchase raw cacao.
Sources for this article include:
Brozyna, Kelly. (2013) The Paleo Chocolate Lovers’ Cookbook: 80 Gluten-Free Treats for Breakfast and Dessert. USA: Victory Belt Publishing Inc.
How to best enjoy and buy delicious, healthy chocolate, with its fascinating healing history, written by Michelle Goldstein, first published February 12, 2014 in Natural News