Raw Cacao: A True Gift From the Earth
Do you know how chocolate is made?
Or why cacao is known as a sacred superfood?
I still remember when I tasted the white flesh of the cacao fruit for the first time. I was living with a eco-spiritual community on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua and after enjoying the sweet fruit, we fermented and dried the seeds in the sun to than enjoy the bitterness and potent medicine of the raw cacao seed.
Cacao is such a beautiful example of how nature provides balance - the sweet and the bitter.
There is an Indigenous myth that shares:
We definitely are at a point in our human history where there is significant imbalance on a global scale between humans and nature, and cacao may just be part of the solution for helping to co-create an abundant earth for now and in the future.
From Coca to Cacao
Chocolate production in Latin America can be traced back through the centuries with pre-Colombian indigenous tribes using cacao seeds as a form of currency to trade with other tribes and chocolate was even considered to be holy at one time.
Many cacao farms in Colombia were used to cultivate coca leaves for the drug trade - a far more lucrative business than growing corn or raising cattle. Life was also very difficult for the small farmers as many of them were controlled by illegal armed groups and lived in fear.
Fortunately, in 2010, a United Nations project facilitated the process of converting farms from growing coca to growing cacao. It may be just one letter difference, but it has made a significant difference in the lives and livelihoods of the Colombian farmers. This project helped to transform their lives through growing cacao and building a brighter new future.
These organic cacao farmers are not only producing Colombia’s finest cocao by applying sustainable cultivation techniques, but are also helping to support the conservation of endemic tropical forests and local wildlife.
Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with one of these incredible Colombian family farms growing organic cacao in the Eastern highlands of Antioquia.
FROM SEED to BAR: CaCao Cultivation to Artisanal chocolate Production
On this farm, there were 1500 cacao trees of the two different colors - yellow and red - integrated with other fruit trees, including soursop, papaya, citrus, vegetables, fish ponds, and animals. This farm was a great example of a food forest.
The biodiversity of flora and fauna I saw while on the farm was phenomenal. There were many different types of pollinator species and I even saw the magnificent big blue butterfly, the Menelaus blue morpho (Morpho menelaus).
At the bottom of the farm was one of the most pristine rivers I have seen, and there was an amazing swimming hole and large rocks to climb and jump from.
Below I share the steps from growing cacao to making artisanal chocolate.
Step 1: Growing Cacao
The cacao fruit tree, Theobroma Cacao, produces the pods where the cacao beans are found. The cacao beans are the seeds of the cacao fruit.
There are both yellow and red varieties of cacao. When first growing the yellow starts off as green, and the red starts off as black.
Once the cacao seed is planted, it takes two years for the the tree to give its' first fruit. However, it takes six years until the tree produces its' first good production of fruit.
Once a flower blooms, it takes 7 months for it to grow into a full sized, ready to harvest cocao pod.
The cacao tree produces ripe cocao pods (its' fruit) all throughout the year, however, the highest production days are from June to July and November to December. Between the high production periods, harvesting is required approximately every fifteen days.
Organically grown cacao trees will produce cacao pods for 100-110 years, different from chemically grown cacao trees, which only provide 40-50 years of production as a result of the level of stress put on the tree for demand and increased production in a shorter period of time. The quality is also lower in chemically grown cacao trees.
Step 2: Fermenting of the Cacao Seeds
Once the cocao pod is harvested, it is cracked open and the 40-45 seeds stilled covered in the white-fleshed fruit are removed and fermented for four days in preparation for the drying step.
The seeds are mix everyday so there is equal fermentation throughout the batch.
Step 3: Drying of the Cacao Seeds
Once the fermentation is complete, the seeds are moved to the drying house for four-five days depending on the climate and temperature.
Here, the seeds are also mixed daily to allow for better drying.
Step 4: Chocolate Production
Once the seeds are dried they are now ready to be processed into chocolate or other cacao products.
Cacao is either processed raw or roasted first before making it into the chocolate liquid.
Personally, I always seek out raw chocolate to have it in its purest form, but most chocolate on the market is roasted with sugar and/or milk added as well as other ingredients (ie. soy lecithin).
Depending on the size of the equipment at the processing facility and how many farms are providing cacao for the chocolate production, the amount of dried seeds used and time allocated for each step in the chocolate making process will vary.
For this Colombian small-scale cacao farm, they use 200 fruits each time they make a batch of chocolate, which ends up producing about ten kilos of chocolate.
Artisanal Chocolate Production Steps:
- Roast dried seeds for 45 mins over fire stirring constantly.
- Put roasted seed through liquid machine three times.
- Place chocolate liquid in mixer for 45 mins continually, so chocolate is softer.
- Cool the liquid down on steel table using a small T-square until it cools.
- Pour into chocolate moulds.
- Place in fridge.
This production produced real, pure, unadulterated chocolate and the Colombian's favorite way of enjoying the chocolate is placing a portion of the bar in hot water to make a hot chocolate drink.
The Nutritional & health Benefits of CAcao
Raw cacao contains a 10% antioxidant level, making it one of the richest sources of antioxidants of any food (3). It is higher in antioxidant activity compared to that of blueberries and goji berries, up to 40% higher.
The significant flavonoid content cacao contains has made it be known as a sacred super food. These antioxidants help to absorb free radicals that cause damage to the body (4).
Raw cacao also is a great source of:
- Polyphenols and magnesium (124%) helping with heart health and brain function (5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)
- Iron (77%) (11)
- Calcium (12%), more than any cow milk
- Protein, amino acids, dietary fiber, sulfur, carotene, thiamin, and riboflavin, which help to increase energy, support gut health (12, 13), and enhance mood (14)
- Phenylethylamine, an adrenal-related chemical that we create naturally when we are excited and also helps us feel focused and alert.
- Anandamide, a bliss-like lipid chemical as it is present in our brain when we food great. It is also called "chocolate amphetamine" as it causes changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar levels, increasing mood, focus and alertness (15).
Cacao that has NOT been processed with sugar and dairy, also helps to diminish appetite and weight loss.
Cacao is known as the food of the Gods for a reason.
In the Kitchen with Cacao
I use raw cacao powder, raw cacao nibs, cacao butter, or dark chocolate in various ways in the kitchen from mylks to smoothies to puddings to desserts to trail mixes.
Here is one of my favorite cacao smoothies I often make post my morning training:
- 1 1/4 cups freshly made almond mylk, or 18 sprouted almonds with 1 1/4 cups filtered water
- 1.5-2 frozen bananas
- 1 mejool date
- 1/4 tsp vanilla powder
- 1 tbsp chia seeds or hemp seeds
- 1-2 tbsp raw cacao powder or nibs (depending how strong you want it)
- dash of cinnamon
Blend until smooth.
If not cold enough for your liking, stick it in the freezer for 10 minutes after you pour it in a cup.
To enjoying cacao ;)
Are you wanting to know how you can bring more living foods into your diet to optimize your nutrition, heal your gut or enhance your health resiliency?
If so, click below to connect, so you can start moving towards high performance health.
Breanne Gibson, MSc., DHN, ROHP, RNCP
As a leading holistic wellness expert and permaculture practitioner, Breanne helps resilient-driven leaders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs optimize their health performance through nutrition, gut health and lifestyle strategies aligned with nature, so they can be their best selves. Read her inspiring story, “From Peachland Queen to military officer to a worldwide permaculture exploration” that lead her to where she is today.