If you've got a penchant for chocolate-y goodness, but don't want to load up on processed food or sugar then cacao might be just the ticket (especially around Easter time).
Cacao is the raw, unprocessed chocolate superfood on everyone's lips. Unlike your regular chocolate bar (or easter egg), raw cacao is supercharged with magnesium and flavanoids, which makes it good for you inside and out.
While it tastes slightly different to everyday chocolate (it's less sweet for starters), it is great in smoothies or desserts. If you're missing the sweetness however, why not try adding a little natural sweetener such as honey or combining it with fruits?
What Is Cacao?
Although they cacao and cocoa are very similar (they look almost identical, are practically spelled the same, and both both come from the Theobroma cacao tree) they are not be confused with one another.
Think of cacao as the healthier relative of cocoa: raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans, which preserves the beans nutritional content; cocoa is heavily processed, roasted at high temperatures and has a lot of sugar added to it, which almost zaps away the health benefits.
Cacao's superfood powers are so strong that it was once used as currency.
"It was once considered 'food of the gods' by the Mayans and the Aztecs making it as valuable as money," explains registered holistic nutritionist Joy McCarthy, writing on HuffPost Canada.
Cacao beans are rich in a number of essential minerals, including magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese.
Tipper Lewis, head herbalist at Neal's Yard Remedies, tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle: "Cacao seems to be the number one source of magnesium of any food. Magnesium balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones, and helps regulate heartbeat and blood pressure."
Such high antioxidant levels supports the cardiovascular and nervous system, by preventing free radicals from forming.
"Cacao also has more antioxidant flavonoids than any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and black and green teas," adds Tipper. "In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea."
And it's not just beneficial to health, cacao also contains the beauty mineral "sulfur".
"Sulfur builds strong nails and hair, promotes beautiful skin, and detoxifies the liver," says Lewis.
It is not only good for the health, but is mood-boosting.
"Cacao raises the level of serotonin in the brain; thus acting as an anti-depressant, helping to reduce PMS symptoms, and promoting a sense of well-being," explains Lewis.
"It also stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasurable sensation similar to the “runner’s high” a jogger feels after running several miles."
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9 Things You Should Know About Cacao
How To Eat It
Add to smoothies, teas, desserts, raw food bars or any dish that calls for the delicious flavor of chocolate. Use for all types of sweet baking, or try mixing with other superfood ingredients as part of a nutritious smoothie blend.
"It adds a sweet taste without added sugar. Add one teaspoon to your smoothie along with your favourite ingredients,"
Check out some top recipes in the video below.
How you do you eat cacao? Tweet us with your favourite recipes @HuffPoLifestyle