Chocolate is one of the best-loved foods in the world. In recent years we have come to realise that in its raw form it is extremely beneficial to our health. Theobroma cacao is a small, evergreen tree that thrives in tropical climates, mostly in South America. Its fruit provides Cacao (also known as Cocoa), the basic material used in the production of chocolate. Although processed chocolate is high in fat and sugar, Cacao itself is nothing short of a superfood.
Cacao is available in several forms, which become accessible once the pulp in the ripe seed has been fermented away and the beans dried. It is therefore a very natural, raw product, in which much of the nutrient content remains intact.
And what a content. Cacao is extraordinarily rich in antioxidant flavanoids – the cacao flavanoid group is known collectively as flavanols. The antioxidant provision of foods is measured on a scale referred to as ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity). By this measure, Cacao is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods available. It also boasts a range of amino acids and nutrients that makes cacao an extremely valuable part of a healthy diet.
50% of Cacao’s mass is actually composed of fats (Oleic, Stearic and Palmitic fatty acids). However, none of the three fats involved is harmful to us. More processed chocolate can indeed have an adverse effect on cholesterol and body fat, conveyed by fats and sugars added later. Thanks to the lack of processing to remove the fat content of beans and nibs, an optimum amount of their nutritional value is retained. Cacao beans and nibs are very nearly the most raw form in which Cacao can be consumed. Cacao powder is still highly nutritious. It has however, had its fat content removed. This results in slightly less nutrition than beans or nibs, as a trade off for its low-fat status.