By J Trevor Miles, President of Belize Cacao Consortium
Today we find ourselves living in an era of information. Every day we are bombarded with articles and social media feeds that proclaim new and better ways to advance health. It’s sometimes difficult separating facts from fiction.
Over the last three to four decades “Big Pharma” has convinced most of the civilized world that anyone can simply pop a pill and everything will be ok. Major food corporations have now defined “acceptable” levels of “not-so-acceptable” ingredients and major chemical companies have engineered “not-the-best-of” chemicals that have now become a part of our DNA.
While the quality of our food supply may seem at ebb, we can effectively influence and can quite possibly even change the world through the choices we make.
As we scroll down the list of healthy alternatives we find little gems that are quite often overlooked and certainly not always available at our nearest convenience store. These are the superfoods; natural foods with amazingly high concentrations of nutrients beneficial to our health and well-being.
One such superfood dear to our heart here at the Belize Cacao Consortium is the sun dried, mahogany coloured seeds we call cacao.
As we scoop up a handful of beans and briskly rub them together we experience the beautiful aroma of the beans and simultaneously understand the complexities of single origin chocolate. Notes of molasses, berries, tropical fruit and plum are ever present yet secondary samples of different batches reveal undertones of toasted nuts, coconut and hints of citrus.
This is the art of cacao and why our recently expanded fermentation & drying depot is so closely monitored. Both Chocolate Maker and Fermentation Specialist have been collaborating and now, both grinning with pride, conclude these beans will, and already have made, some exceptional chocolate!
It’s hard to understand why people still eat mass market made chocolate! Mass market made chocolate with all its artificial ingredients and additives is nothing more than candy and as one would expect not very healthy for you.
Adversely, dark chocolate with no artificial additives and a high percentage of cocoa solids is usually very good for you.
Raw cacao beans, beans that have not been cooked or heated, are even more exceptional and studies are now confirming that they are indeed a superfood. Here are a few of the recent findings:
- Raw organic cacao has over 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries. It has an extremely high ORAC score of 98,000 per 100g, vs blueberries at 2,400. ORAC scores measure how antioxidants absorb the pollution and toxins in our bodies which can cause cell and tissue damage and can lead to diseases including cancer.
- Cacao is the highest plant-based source of iron known to man, at a whopping 7.3mg per 100g. This exceeds beef and lamb at 2.5mg, and spinach at 3.6mg.
- Raw, organic cacao is also one of the highest plant-based sources of magnesium, the most deficient mineral in our bodies today. Magnesium is important for a healthy heart, and helps turn glucose into energy enabling our brains to work with clarity and focus. A daily dose of vitamin C aids our bodies in the absorption of trace minerals especially magnesium.
- Another amazing fact is that raw organic cacao has more calcium than cow's milk, at 160mg per 100g vs only 125mg per 100ml of milk. Can anyone say, “GOT CACAO?”
Don’t just take our word for it. Check out some of the independent news articles about the health benefits of cacao on our website, and Nutrition Advance's guide to the health benefits of dark chocolate.
One of the most pleasing side effects of cacao is that it is full of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, anandamide and phenylethylamine. These natural chemicals are often associated with feelings of love, wellbeing and happiness and can even alleviate depression. I guess this can also explain why most Mayan families in Southern Belize are so large and why everyone is always so happy and smiling.
The health benefits of raw cacao have been understood by the Maya people for centuries and in more recent times reserved for Chocolate Makers the world over. Roasted cacao or what the industry calls “cacao nibs” are now becoming more readily available.
Nibs are simply roasted cacao beans that have been cracked into little bits and the shells (or husks) have been winnowed away. Nibs travel easily, have a long shelf life, can be sprinkled into your morning cereal or yogurt and can be added to your favourite smoothie. For the Epicurious, nibs are great in more savoury dishes and can become terrific dry rubs for meat or chicken. Powdered nibs can also be used as a base for many exotic sauces.
Cacao, what an amazing food! So healthy and so versatile yet misunderstood by so many. We are tremendously happy to be bringing these great cacao products to market.