If you’ve been into any food store, cafe or even pharmacy in the last few years, chances are you’ll have come across cacao powder.
Hailed as one of the most popular superfoods of the moment, cacao powder has gained a lot of attention over recent years — and for good reason!
It’s difficult to believe that an ingredient related to chocolate can be a real health food, but it’s true. Cacao provides a load of brilliant health benefits, helping your body stay in tip-top shape from head to toe.
So, if you want to learn more about this awesome ingredient, here’s your ultimate guide to all things cacao powder…
What is cacao powder (is it just chocolate in a different form?)?
As they’re almost spelt identically, and look incredibly similar, many people assume cacao powder and cocoa powder are the same thing — but they’re not.
Whilst they both originate from the same tree native to South America (the theobroma cacao tree), that’s where the similarities end.
Cocoa is the result of roasting and processing raw, organic beans to produce the goodies, like chocolate, that we all know and love. Problem is, by undergoing this transformation, a lot of the nutritional value goes out the window — that’s why we can’t claim that your standard choccie bar is healthy (sorry!)
However, if you cold-press unroasted beans, then you’re left with cacao. This process really makes the most of the theobroma tree’s potential, by retaining living enzymes in the bean and removing the fat (cacao butter).
That’s why cacao powder is packed full of benefits. It’s a healthier, antioxidant-rich alternative to the cocoa powder you’re maybe more familiar with.
Let’s get into it: what are the health benefits of cacao?
As cacao powder doesn’t lose any of its natural superpowers through processing, it packs a big punch when it comes to health benefits.
Here are just a few of the impressive claims associated with cacao, each of which certainly validate its current superfood status.
Cacao is rich in antioxidants
Whilst the world’s been busy touting the antioxidant potential of dark berries, cacao powder has been waiting to surprise us all.
And indeed, cacao has a far higher antioxidant concentration — estimated to be as much as 40 times more than blueberries can boast!
Containing a simply incredible volume of antioxidants, raw cacao powder can help fight against dangerous free radicals within your body. This could reduce your risk of developing life-threatening conditions such as cancer and heart disease, and — on a more everyday level — cacao can help clear acne and support optimum immune system function, too.
Cacao promotes a healthy brand and nervous system
Packed full with magnesium, cacao powder can help facilitate a wide variety of important chemical reactions throughout your entire body. And as many people simply don’t consume enough magnesium — with processed fast foods being to blame — cacao could be a life changing addition to your diet!
Getting your magnesium fix throughout the week can help keep your brain and nervous system functioning at their best potential. Plus, if you like to keep an active lifestyle, magnesium will provide you with much-needed boosts of energy when you need it.
Cacao powder brownies, anyone?
Cacao can help keep you happy!
Ever wondered why we love chocolate so much?
Sure, it tastes great. But cacao beans also contain a molecule scientifically found to improve your mood.
It all comes down to a little thing called phenylethylamine (conveniently known as PEA, for short). This compound has been found to lift the spirit, as a result of increased serotonin and dopamine within the brain.
Cacao can reduce high cholesterol and prevent heart disease
High in nutrients known as flavonoids, cacao powder could provide a range of positives regarding general heart health. As flavonoids have been found to help increase the ‘good’ forms of cholesterol (HDL) and reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol within our bodies, this could support overall heart function and even help to reduce high blood pressure!
Better still, flavonoids have been found to potentially help reduce the risk of developing diabetes too — although more concrete research is needed for this to be taken as seriously as other cacao claims.
Is there such a thing as ‘too much’ cacao powder?
We know what you’re thinking: it’s time to stock up on cacao powder, right?
But hold up for just one second.
Whilst there’s no denying the incredibly positive impact cacao powder can have on our health, this superfood isn’t completely free of side effects. As with virtually anything we consume as part of our diet, excessive amounts could cause more harm than good.
So, if you like what you’ve heard so far and want to include cacao powder as part of your diet, it’s important to be aware of certain side effects you may experience as a result.
Cacao can lead to impaired sleep
It’s no secret that consuming too much caffeine can wreak havoc on our ability to sleep, and cacao powder can certainly contribute to this.
After all, there’s a surprisingly high amount of caffeine in many types of cacao powder, and consuming too much could be detrimental to your sleeping pattern.
However, if you treat cacao in the same fashion as you would a cup of coffee, then you shouldn’t run into too many issues! The same rules apply: avoid too much cacao in the late afternoon and evening, and you should continue sleeping soundly.
Cacao can suffer contamination
As with virtually any other ‘raw’ product, cacao powder could fall victim to contamination and bacteria growth. When being transformed into cocoa to create products like chocolate, raw cacao beans undergo an intensive heating process. Whilst responsible for cocoa powder losing some of its original nutritional value, this presence of heat in-turn kills virtually all bacteria.
But as raw cacao powder doesn’t undergo this process, there’s a slightly higher chance of unwanted bacteria and fungus continuing to grow.
To combat this, all reputable cacao powder producers must adhere to mandatory rules and regulations — with strict tests being carried out to identify any possible contamination or bacteria growth. If present, the batch of cacao powder simply won’t be sold.
So, provided you purchase your cacao powder from a trusted source, you shouldn’t be concerned about bacterial contamination. That being said: it’s best that pregnant women don’t consume too much raw cacao, just as an extra added precaution.
How to include cacao powder into your diet
As part of a balanced diet, cacao powder in its raw form can make a great new addition!
Whilst pretty bitter when eaten alone, and not to everyone’s taste, there’s plenty of healthy and delicious dishes you can add cacao powder to.
First off, simply eating ready-made chocolate is a super easy way of increasing the amount of cacao into your diet. But avoid many of today’s typical sugary milk chocolates, and opt for raw, dark chocolate instead. Great to be eaten as a treat, a small serving of cacao-rich dark chocolate is sure to satisfy the cravings!
But if you’re keen to incorporate cacao powder into a variety of dishes and drinks you can make yourself at home, here’s some ideas to get started with:
Adding cacao powder to your smoothies couldn’t be easier.
Just a couple of tablespoons is more than enough to reap the benefits, and it can add a deliciously rich, chocolatey taste to your favourite smoothie recipes.
Combining cacao with fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries is a well-loved combination. Or you pair cacao with banana, if you’re looking for something a little more filling and substantial.
Blend with some milk or even greek yoghurt for substance, and you’ve got a delicious, benefit-packed, smoothie perfect for any time of the day!
Cacao brownies and cakes
Every now and then, we all need a sweet, baked treat.
And when you do, you can easily add cacao powder to whatever you’re making — be it brownies, cakes or biscuits. But just be careful: if you’re planning to replace regular cocoa powder with your raw cacao powder, you may need to add a little more sugar than normal to counteract the bitter taste!
Cacao hot chocolate
The ultimate indulgence on a cold night, simply combine 1 cup of your favorite milk with 1-2 tablespoons of cacao powder and an organic natural sweetener. Heat until warmed through, and you’ve got a deliciously warming hot chocolate!
From health benefits, to potential watch-outs, that’s everything you need to know about cacao
If you thought cocoa and cacao powder were the same, think again!
Unlike chocolate, cacao powder can provide a variety of health-boosting benefits, and can play a really important role in a delicious, balanced diet.
So now you know what cacao is, how will you eat it first?
For more recipe ideas and health food tips, head over to our blog. We’ll see you there!