Cocoa - The Super Healthy Fruit
Photo of various types of chocolate and chocolate candy.
You may be surprised to learn that cocoa is actually a FRUIT - and even more surprised to learn that it is actually one of the most healthy fruits commonly eaten by man!
Recent research studies have shown a link between cocoa and cardiovascular health, with reduced risk of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks.
Cornell University food scientists discovered that cocoa powder has nearly twice the antioxidants of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidants found in green tea.
Raw cocoa has the highest antioxidant value of all the natural foods in the world!
The ORAC score per 100 grams of unprocessed raw cacao is 28,000, compared to 18,500 for Acai Berries, 1,540 for Strawberries, and only 1,260 for raw Spinach. The ORAC score for a typical manufactured Dark Chocolate is an impressive 13,120 - although one unique, organic, and non-roasted brand of Dark Chocolate has a much higher ORAC score. But for Milk Chocolate the ORAC score is much lower at 6,740.
Cocoa also appears to have anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. And cocoa is a good source of the minerals magnesium, sulphur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese; plus some of the B Vitamins.
When heart problems occur, magnesium is the most likely mineral to be missing in the person's diet.
Cocoa has a high content of the "beauty" mineral, sulfur. Sulfur helps build strong nails and hair, promotes healthy and beautiful skin, helps detoxify the liver, and supports healthy functioning of the pancreas.
Fresh cocoa beans are super-rich in the type of bioflavonoid called flavanols which are strong antioxidants that help maintain healthy blood flow and blood pressure. The heart-healthy flavanols in cocoa, especially the epicatechins, prevent fatty substances in the bloodstream from oxidizing and then clogging the arteries.
Flavanols help make blood platelets less likely to stick together and cause blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes - without the negative side effects associated with the use of aspirin (ASA) and other pharmaceutical blood-thinners.
Cocoa beans contain 10,000 milligrams (10 grams) of flavanol antioxidants per 100 grams - or an amazing 10% antioxidant concentration level! When it comes to supplying your body with effective antioxidants, no other natural food can even come close. No exotic super-fruit like Acai berries, no high-antioxidant fruits like prunes or blueberries, and no vegetables. The antioxidants in cocoa are easily absorbed by the human body, and are more stable and long-lasting than those in any other foods.
Cocoa also contains the amino acid Tryptophan which makes the neurotransmitter known as serotonin, which promotes positive feelings and helps keep us from feeling depressed. Cocoa contains the neurotransmitters dopamine, and phenylethylamine (PEA), and contains anandamide and MAO Inhibitors - which make this heart-healthy food a healthy food for the brain too.
Phenylethylamine (PEA) helps promote mental alertness and the ability to concentrate. The PEA in healthy chocolate can be of help to students taking tests, and to senior citizens who want to retain the mental capacity of a younger person and postpone the onset of dementia.
Studies have indicated that consuming dark chocolate produced an increased sensitivity to insulin (which indicates a protective effect against diabetes).
While you may have believed that cocoa and chocolate were "bad for you", the truth is that THE RIGHT KIND OF CHOCOLATE provides many health benefits that make it not only "good for you" but better for your body than most of the fruits and vegetables your mother made you eat when you were a child.
Eating a healthy dark chocolate provides a sweet, sensual, sin-free pleasure, as well as some significant health benefits. A heart-felt gift of healthy dark chocolate to a loved one offers a heart-warming, delightfully delicious treat, as well as a super heart-healthy food that promotes a longer and healthier life.
If the pharmaceutical industry managed to produce a patented product that offered all the health benefits of cocoa, they would likely proclaim it a "miracle drug"! But since cocoa is widely available, is relatively inexpensive, and does not require you to pay for a doctor's prescription nor pay fees to a dispensing pharmacy, you are not likely to hear many members of the medical establishment recommending chocolate for its many health benefits.
You may also be surprised to learn that dark chocolate can help you lose weight! Because it has appetite-suppressant properties, cocoa is often added to weight loss products to help control hunger.
While you may have been told that chocolate is "fattening", the truth is that the fats found in cocoa butter are actually healthy fats! Cacao contains oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat which is also found in olive oil and is believed to raise the level of the "good cholesterol" known as HDL cholesterol (the acronym HDL stands for "High Density Lipid").
Healthy chocolate can be of great benefit to tobacco smokers - but not just because they need lots of the antioxidants which neutralize the free radicals generated by the toxic compounds in tobacco smoke. A recent study in Switzerland indicated that dark chocolate may help prevent hardening of the arteries.
A 2006 clinical study by Swiss researchers found that within minutes of consuming dark chocolate, their test group of 20 smokers experienced a significant improvement in the function of the endothelial cells which line the artery walls. Smoking tobacco has long been linked to hardening of the arteries and an increase in the production of clot-forming platelets in the blood.
Raw cocoa beans contain over 300 chemically identifiable compounds. This makes cocoa one of the most complex food substances on Earth!
Click here to learn more about the many Health Benefits of chocolate.
How Chocolate Is Made
Chocolate really does grow on trees! Cocoa beans come from the fruit of the cacao tree which grows in tropical rainforests in South America, Africa, and Malaysia. The official scientific name of the cocoa tree is Theobroma Cacao. "Theobroma" is Latin for "food of the gods". Cacao is pronounced "ka-COW". The words "cacao" and the more commonly used term "cocoa" both refer to the cacao bean, the seed of the Theobroma Cacao fruit.
The main producers and exporters of cacao beans are the West African countries of Cote d'Ivoire or "Ivory Coast" (40%); and Ghana, which until 1957 was the British colony known as the "Gold Coast" (15%). Indonesia also produces about 15%. Brazil, Nigeria, and Cameroon also grow cacao in lesser quantities.
Strictly speaking, cocoa or cacao is a nut, the seed of a fruit, but is most commonly called cocoa beans, cocoa seeds, cocoa nuts, chocolate seeds, or chocolate beans. Commercial cocoa growers and processors refer to the dried cocoa beans as cocoa nibs. The term cacao often refers to the beans before they are fermented and dried.
All of these terms refer to the dried fruit or nuts of the cacao tree, and here we will use the most popular term cocoa beans to refer to the fermented and dried bean that is used to make cocoa powder and dark chocolate.
The cacao pods take five to six months to ripen. In the typical cacao plantation, the growers harvest the pods from the cacao tree at the time of perfect ripeness, then remove the cacao beans from the pods (about 45 beans per pod) by cutting the pods open with a machete knife.
The beans are then covered with banana leaves and left for about five days to ferment, which reduces the bitterness and develops an enhanced chocolate flavor. When they have reached the proper level of fermentation, the beans are then left to dry in the sun, where the brown color and the chocolate flavor intensifies. Then the now-finished cocoa beans are shipped to the cocoa buyers and processors.
Cocoa butter is a fatty substance that comes from the fruit of the cacao tree, though some is also found inside the cocoa bean and is usually removed by pressing the beans to ensure the best cocoa flavor. Cocoa butter is often used in making chocolate, but the dark brown chocolate color and the chocolate flavor and the greatest health benefits come from the cocoa bean, not from the light-colored cocoa butter.
ABC News reported in 2005 that the average American consumes 11.5 pounds of chocolate each year. That would likely be chocolate bars and various types of chocolate candy, which are mostly sugar and fat. Chocolate consumption represents one percent of the American diet, yet most Americans have never tasted "real" chocolate - natural cocoa or the cacao bean in its raw form.
You could sprinkle crushed cocoa beans or cocoa nibs onto whipped cream, ice cream, puddings, or other desserts for a natural chocolate flavor from these original "chocolate chips". The crushed raw cocoa beans or nibs look a lot like coarse-ground coffee beans and taste like unsweetened dark chocolate - because all real chocolate is made from cocoa/cacao beans.
From Cocoa Bean to Cocoa Liquor to Baking Chocolate
Chocolate is manufactured from cocoa mass, the base product produced by processing the cocoa/cacao beans or nibs by fermenting and then roasting them to produce a liquid called chocolate liquor, which is very "thick" or viscous. You might expect the cocoa mass to be sol