Cacao powder is made by crushing cacao beans. Cacao beans are got from cacao pods that are the fruits of the Theobroma cacao tree. This tree is found primarily in the tropical and Equatorial regions of Africa, Asia, Central, and South America. When the cacao pods ripen, they are cut and the cacao beans are taken out and used to make various products. Each cacao pod produces 30-50 cacao beans. These light-colored beans take on a darker hue when they are dried before processing. There are 3 main types of cacao beans produced all over the world - Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario.
Since the terms cacao and cocoa are used interchangeably, people are confused and wonder if they are the same or different products. Cacao beans are the raw form and when other ingredients like milk, sugar and other additives are added, they make cocoa powder, chocolate etc. Raw cacao beans were called "food of the gods" for the various benefits they provide. They are a rich source of powerful antioxidants like polyphenols - a flavonoid. They also contain dietary fibers - both soluble and insoluble, carbohydrates, protein, monounsaturated fats like oleic acid that do not increase blood cholesterol levels, some amounts of caffeine and theobromine that are stimulants and anti-depressants, minerals like calcium, zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese, iron and potassium and vitamins like B1, B2, B3, B5, B9, C, A, E, and pantothenic acid.
Raw cacao powder is made using cacao beans without exposing it to temperatures greater than 116 degrees F. Cacao beans are cold pressed to make a paste at these temperatures. Now the fats and oils found in the beans are extracted. The remaining paste is cold ground and we get raw cacao powder. It has a tasty, nutty, chocolate flavor. Processing at low temperatures retains all the essential nutrients in raw cacao powder. Cocoa powder is made when the same cacao beans are processed at high temperatures and additives are mixed. Now, the heat-sensitive nutrients, especially antioxidants get destroyed and it will not have the same nutritional value as raw cacao powder.
While the FDA guidelines states that cacao powder and cocoa powder refer to the same product, cacao powder usually means the raw, unsweetened powder and cocoa powder refers to the product that still has some of the cocoa butter to enhance flavor.
Benefits and Uses of raw cacao powder
Raw cacao powder offers the flavors of chocolate while still retaining all the goodness of various nutrients. The flavors depend on the type of cacao bean used with Criollo being considered the rarest, premium variety with the best flavors. Raw cacao powder offers potent antioxidant value having the top score in the ORAC scale of 95,500. It contains natural mood stimulants that elevate moods and promote relaxation such as anandamide called "bliss chemical" and arginine an essential amino acid that helps to reduce blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. Therefore, raw cacao powder is called an aphrodisiac that can improve sexual function.
High levels of magnesium in cacao powder promote heart health, build strong bones and induce feelings of calmness and relax muscles. Other minerals and nutrients can reduce blood clots, dilate blood vessels, regulate heartbeat, improve circulation, lower LDL or bad cholesterol levels and blood pressure, therefore reducing risks of heart attacks and strokes. Tryptophan found in natural, raw cacao powder, is an amino acid that helps us relax and cures insomnia. A cup of hot chocolate made using raw cacao powder will give us a good night's sleep. Sulfur present in it helps build strong nails, beautiful skin, detoxifies the liver and helps optimal functioning of the pancreas.
Raw cacao powder is simple to use. Just sprinkle it in smoothies, yogurt, blended drinks, cereal or oatmeal or any other recipe that requires processed cocoa powder. Now, you get the taste and flavor of cocoa with the added health benefits of raw cacao. Raw cacao powder can be stored in cool places like the refrigerator.
Raw cacao powder offers the best benefits before processing. In excess, cacao can cause side effects like migraines, sleeplessness, anxiety or excess urination due to an overdose of caffeine. So, make sure you do not exceed daily recommended levels.
I was sent some Kiva organic cacao powder to try out for myself and I must say it`s quite a high-quality product. The package describes it as certified organic, non-GMO, raw, vegan, made from premium Criollo cacao beans from Ecuador with minimal low-temperature processing and with no sugars or fillers - some important stuff to me. What I love about this is that this product can be used for anything you would use cocoa powder for. It is more like a Hershey`s cocoa and not like hot cocoa mix; It`s not an instant mix, and it is unsweetened. Simply add to water or milk and that`s it! The cacao powder arrived quickly, was fresh in the bag, and above of all - it tasted great! It`s a high quality product and I highly recommend it!
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