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The Valentine’s Day Superfood

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Did you know that there is one particular food that provides the same feel good endorphins as falling in love? Not only that, but this food is also considered to contain more antioxidants and calming magnesium than any other food. Sound too good to be true?

Well it’s not! Cacao is thought to be the “Valentine’s Day Superfood” due to its heart healthy benefits and feel good compounds. Plus, cacao is cool!

Cacao 101

Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can consume and comes from the cacao fruit tree known as Theobroma Cacao. Cacao can be consumed in a number of ways including cacao nibs, cacao powder, cacao butter, cacao paste.

The cacao tree produces a “fruit” known as cacao pods. These pods are cracked open to release cacao beans. From there, cacao beans can be finely chopped into cacao nibs, much like chocolate chips but without the added sugars or fats.

Cacao powder is made by cold-pressing cacao beans and milling it into a fine dark powder. This process keeps the enzymes and removes the fat (cacao butter) part of the bean.  Cacao powder contains more fiber and calories than cocoa powder since more of the nutrients from the whole bean are still intact.

Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. It is white in color and has a rich, buttery texture that resembles white chocolate in taste and appearance. You can use this during baking or even as a moisturizer.

Cacao paste comes from cacao nibs that have been slowly heated to preserve the nutrients and are melted into a bark known that is a less-processed form of dark chocolate bars.

What’s the Difference Between Cacao & Cocoa?

The difference lies in the processing.  While cacao and cocoa start from the same place (the same source), the way they end up and what they go through along the way makes them completely different.

“The vast majority of studies exploring links between chocolate and health benefits are not dealing with chocolates you’d find at the store. They’re focused on cacao beans themselves, either in raw or minimally-processed forms.” (Not a Hershey’s Bar!) 

Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can consume whereas cocoa is the term used to refer to the heated form of cacao that you probably grew up buying at the store in the form of cocoa powder.

The heating process of cacao results in a slightly sweeter flavor and is more commonly used in desserts than cacao powder. Unfortunately, much of the nutritional content disappears once cacao is converted into cocoa. As mentioned, most people consume chocolate in its processed form with added dairy, sugar, and other ingredients (and think it’s healthy because it’s chocolate). But, when dairy is added to chocolate it actually limits the body’s ability to absorb the phytonutrients from chocolate, hence why dark chocolate gets all the attention.

At On Target Living, nothing is off limits when it’s from the source. Raw sugar cane is actually super healthy (loaded in vitamins, minerals, and fiber). Unfortunately, we don’t consume raw sugar cane at the source. Instead we over-consume processed sugar in many different forms, shapes, and sizes.

A Snicker’s bar and cacao nibs provide very different reactions in the body. One is highly processed with additives and the other one is in its purest form full of all the good stuff that makes it a “superfood.”

When it comes to all foods, ask yourself what is the source. This question will allow you to determine whether a product is truly healthy or not.

Everything is healthy when it starts at the source.

Food For Thought: Contrary to popular belief, ¼ cup of cacao contains only 10-60 mg of caffeine compared to a cup of coffee which can contain 100-180 mg of caffeine.

The History of Cacao

The cacao bean is also associated with an Aztec fertility maiden goddess of love, beauty, crafts, childbirth and female sexual power.

Cacao beans are found to contain a “bliss chemical” also known as “nature’s Viagra” and can increase sex drive and improve intimacy. Studies show that cacao produces the same chemistry in the brain that occurs when we fall in love.

Cacao has been used for thousands of years throughout many cultures for its health benefits and as a high trade commodity.

Health Benefits of Cacao Nibs

  • Raw and much healthier than processed cocoa powder or chocolate bars
  • High in fiber needed for healthy digestion and elimination
  • Energizing and uplifting
  • Highest source of antioxidants that contain disease fighting properties
  • Anti-inflammatory and immune boosting
  • Manage stress and improve blood pressure
  • Helps to balance cholesterol and improve hormonal health
  • Stimulates serotonin production making us feel happy and satisfied
  • Highest source of magnesium

What’s So Special About Magnesium?

Magnesium is considered our calming mineral and helps to relax the mind and body. Magnesium is crucial for getting a good night’s sleep. If you tend to fall asleep, but can’t stay asleep, this is usually a sign that you may be deficient in magnesium. A good night’s sleep is especially important for balancing our hormones, especially our fat-burning and sex hormones.

The magnesium in cacao can also help to soothe sore muscles, joints, plays a role in the contraction of the heart, and simulates the nervous system to oxygenate blood flow to the brain and major organs.

Magnesium is also needed to absorb calcium which is why calcium supplements aren’t beneficial for bone health.  It’s important to eat real whole foods that naturally contain rich sources of magnesium and calcium and consume alkaline rich food sources which can help restore calcium in the bones.

How To Eat Cacao

Unfortunately, when it comes to cacao, most people don’t know how to use it and are scared away when they first try it in its natural form as it tends to be very bitter. Cacao is best consumed when added to dishes like oatmeal, smoothies, trail mix, baked goods, desserts, etc.

Cooking with Cacao

Cacao Dipped Fruit & Nuts

  • Fresh strawberries
  • Dried unsweetened apples, mango, apricots, and raisins
  • Use cacao powder and cacao butter or cacao chips
  • Assortment of raw nuts
  • Sea salt (optional)

Heat a double boiler* over medium heat and add cacao chips. Heat until melted and use as a dip for fruit or nuts. To make your own cacao add a mixture of cacao powder and cacao butter to a double boiler and stir until melted. 2:1 ratio of cacao powder to cacao butter and stir to mix. Add 1-2 tablespoons of raw or local honey to sweeten if desired.

Dip fruit half way into melted chocolate and place on wax paper lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt if desired. Place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to set before eating. To store, keep in an air tight container in the refrigerator. (Will stay fresh for 1-2 weeks)

You can also make your own chocolate peanut butter cups but spraying a muffin cup with coconut oil spray and pouring melted chocolate half way up the side of the muffin cup. Place in freezer for 10 minutes to harden. Scoop a small spoonful of natural nut butter on top of hardened chocolate and top with remaining melted chocolate to cover. Sprinkle sea salt on top if desired and add to freezer again to harden for 10 minutes. Store butter cups in the refrigerator to keep cold until ready to eat.

*Double boiler requires a sauce pot filled with a small amount of water and a metal pot on top. Add cacao chips or cacao powder + butter to the metal pot. Once water begins to lightly boil and steam, chocolate will start to melt. Stir continuously to avoid burning. 

Cacao Spiced Kettle Corn

Serves 2

  • 1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
  • ½ cup organic corn kernels
  • 1 tablespoon of agave nectar
  • Cinnamon for sprinkling
  • Dash of sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons cacao nibs

Heat coconut oil in a large deep saucepan. Drop 2 popcorn kernels in oil and wait until kernels pop. Once popped and preheated, add in the rest of the kernels and cover with a tight- fitting lid. Pop for 2-3 minutes or until popping noise is within 3-4 seconds apart. While popcorn is hot, drizzle with agave nectar, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a dash of salt.

*May also use air popper and drizzle popcorn with melted coconut oil instead.

Cacao Energy Bites 

Makes 30 Small Bites

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup almond/nut butter
  • ½ cup raw honey
  • 1/2 cup ground flaxseeds or chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup of cacao nibs
  • ¼ cup of shredded coconut

Combine all ingredients together in a large bowl. Once mixed, roll into small balls or “bites.”

Store in the refrigerator for one month or keep in the freezer for three months from a healthy and delicious grab and go breakfast or snack.

Avocado & Chocolate Mousse

Serves 2

1 avocado

2 tablespoons cacao powder

1 tablespoon raw/local honey or organic maple syrup

1/4 cup of almond or cashew milk

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a small food processor and mix until creamy. Add to a pretty glass dish or two small shot glasses and top with cacao nibs. Garnish with fresh mint leaves and fresh berries.

CooCoo for cacao yet? Learn more here.