The medicinal use of cacao, or raw chocolate, originated in the New World among the Olmec, Maya and Azrec peoples. Cacao was used as both a primary remedy and as a means of administering other medicines in a more palatable form. The word cacao is derived from Olmec and the subsequent Mayan languages (kakaw).
The sacred book of the Maya – the Popol Vuh makes reference to this ‘Food of the Gods’:
“And so they were happy over the provisions of the good mountain, ﬁlled with sweet things, . . . thick with pataxte and cacao. . . the rich foods ﬁlling up the citadel named Broken Place, Bitter Water Place.” From the Popol Vuh, sacred book of the Maya (Tedlock 1985, p 163)
Cacao made its way to Europe in the mid 1500’s and was widely heralded as a miracle medicine. The history of its medicinal use is richly documented. The Badianus Codex (1552) noted the use of cacao ﬂowers to treat fatigue, whereas the Florentine Codex (1590) offered a prescription of cacao beans, maize and the herb tlacoxochitl (Calliandra anomala) to alleviate fever and panting of breath and to treat the faint of heart. Subsequent 16th to early 20th century manuscripts produced in Europe and New Spain revealed 100 medicinal uses for cacao/chocolate. Three consistent roles can be identiﬁed:
1) to treat emaciated patients to gain weight;
2) to stimulate nervous systems of apathetic, exhausted or feeble patients; and
3) to improve digestion and elimination where cacao/chocolate countered the effects of stagnant or weak stomachs, stimulated kidneys and improved bowel function.
Additional medical complaints treated with cacao have included anaemia, poor appetite, mental fatigue, poor breast milk production, consumption/tuberculosis, fever, gout, kidney stones, reduced longevity and poor sexual appetite/low virility. Chocolate paste was a medium used to administer drugs and to counter the taste of bitter pharmacological additives. In addition to cacao beans, preparations of cacao bark, oil (cacao butter), leaves and ﬂowers have been used to treat burns, bowel dysfunction, cuts and skin irritations. (J. Nutr. 130: 2057S—2072S, 2000.)
Modern science has identified more than 300 chemically identifiable compounds in cacao and has proclaimed it to be significantly richer in antioxidant flavonols than green tea, red wine or acai. It contains protein, fats, calcium, iron, magnesium, carotene, thiamine and riboflavine. The theobromine it contains causes your brain to produce more of a neurotransmitter called anandamide which promotes a sense of well being.
So we can see that raw cacao is a powerful, healing, alchemical ingredient, very different from modern chocolate. The modern stuff – palatable as it may be, is mixed with vegetable fats, sugar and usually milk to make it less bitter. Since its production involves heating, much of the healing potential of the cacao is destroyed and modern chocolate is transformed into nothing more than a pancreas stressing treat.
Shame that really – I do think we should be able to enjoy treats in our life, but we have to choose wisely and keep things in moderation. The good news is that raw cacao can be made into delicious healthy treats doing you good twice over, once directly and the second time because it means you are not eating the unhealthy stuff.
I like to use raw cacao in high protein snackballs. It can be hard to find healthy snacks when out and about, especially when steering clear of wheat or gluten so I tend to bring my own. These are brilliant for sporting events when you want to be especially careful to avoid destabilising blood sugar swings and keep up your energy levels.
Here is my recipe:
Raw Cacao High Protein Snackballs (makes a dozen)
125g raw hazelnut butter
100g finely chopped brazil nuts
50g finely chopped unsweetened dried cherries
2 tbsp shelled hemp seeds
1 tbsp ground chia seeds
3tsp chopped cacao nibs
2 tsp raw cacao powder
3 tsp raw honey
1 tsp coconut oil
½ tsp spirulina powder
Seeds from ¼ of a vanilla pod
Shredded coconut to roll the finished balls in
Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and then shape into balls. Roll in the shredded coconut and store in the fridge.
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