Has Cold Brew Coffee Paved the Way for Cold Brew Cocoa?

There was a brief window heading into the summer of 2015 when all kinds of food-focused publications were ready to declare cold brewed cocoa the next big drink trend. Then it really wasn’t.

We’re not totally sure who was first behind the cold brew cocoa buzz that year — a crown year for enlightenment in the cold coffee market among specialty coffee sellers — though one particularly memorable heralding came by way of Quartz, which did a big, splashy feature on the history of cocoa brewed cold.

In short, cold brew cocoa essentially follows the same principles and recipes as cold brew coffee, except instead of ground coffee that sits with filtered water at room- or refrigerated-temperatures for X amount of time, it is typically ground cacao nibs. The resulting beverage is not overly sweet and milk-laden like traditional hot cocoa, but more nuanced and subtle, while begging for use as a base for cocktail or mocktail type drinks.

Some high-end chocolatiers, coffee purveyors and tea shops have indeed been experimenting with cold brew cocoa for years, but a new market trends analysis from the market research firm Mintel suggests cold brew cocoa’s moment in the specialty beverage spotlight may actually be now — as opposed to two years ago — following a major release from Starbucks and increased attention on the potential health benefits of specialty drinks.

“The tea and coffee markets have each successfully made the jump from hot to cold drink, the former most recently with the cold brew and nitro coffee trends,” Mintel Global Food and Drinks Analyst Alex Beckett wrote in the analysis last week. “Now, cocoa may be braced to make a similar transition into the chilled drinks fixture.”

Beckett argues that Starbucks’ launch of a “Cold Brew Cocoa and Honey” bottled beverage this spring, though more of a traditional cold brew coffee with added ingredients, has helped propel consumer consciousness of the cold cocoa concept, while creating some mental separation between chocolate and cocoa as drinks ingredients.

The analysis also points to the potential yet largely unproven benefits of cocoa nibs as drinks ingredients. Cocoa is well-known to be high in theobromine, an alkaloid and stimulant that has been shown to dilate blood vessels and to potentially decrease blood pressure or positively affect mood, while also acting as a diuretic and stimulant that can have the same kind of potential negative effects associated with caffeine.

“At the heart of the relationship between health and chocolate is the cocoa content, and the higher the percentage of cocoa, the bigger the associated better-for-you benefits,” the analysis stated. “In Europe, there is significant consumer interest in seeing more chocolate which retains the nutrients of the cocoa beans. With this in mind, there could be opportunities for cold brew cocoa to communicate the level of cocoa content, or provenance of the cocoa. For various reasons, the cold brewed coffee boom is struggling to replicate its US success in Europe, but maybe the allure of chocolate will help cold brew cocoa find greater success.”

Fermentation 101

News Source:  The Chocolate Project (March 9, 2017)

The process for converting the fruit of the cacao tree into chocolate is a complex one. Fermenting the fruit pulp and seeds together is the first critical step and one that is not well understood by chocolate lovers. In today’s blog we will take some basic steps toward explaining this remarkable transformation.

Soon after harvest, cacao pods are cracked open and the tasty, sticky, white pulp inside is removed. This pulp also contains the seeds, which at this point are somewhere between pale pink and pastel purple in colour. The pulp and seeds are placed into large wooden boxes, usually located not far from the harvest site. Most modern boxes average 4′ square and will hold about a tonne of fruit each. Once filled, the seeds are covered with banana leaves and sometimes plastic sheeting. This helps to hold in the heat that is produced during fermentation and it is thought that the banana leaves contribute beneficial yeasts and microbial agents to the cacao fruit. Insect contact also certainly helps to introduce yeast into the box, as do the hands of harvesters as they scoop fruit out of the cacao husks. Before long, the sugars in the fruit pulp are beginning to break down and fermentation begins.

When we say cacao is “fermented” we are really talking about the white pulp not the seeds. The seeds go through a chemical transformation due to the fact that they are coated with fermenting pulp. First, fruit sugars are converted into alcohol. This initial fermentation relies on yeasts and occurs anaerobically within the box. It typically takes one to two days with the yeast population peaking at about the 24 hour mark. Holes in the bottom of the fermenting boxes allow excess liquid to seep away and a surprising amount of heat is produced. The internal temperature can reach 46C-50C by the second day. At this point the heat and concentration of alcohol kill the yeasts and the first stage is over.

Next, bacteria begin to convert the alcohol into acids (primarily acetic acid and lactic acid). This process requires oxygen so the box must be turned regularly to ensure that all the beans are evenly affected. Bacterial concentrations are highest at day three and then decline rapidly so most ferments take about five or six days in total.

When the bacterial ferment begins, important changes start to happen within the seed. During the first stage the seed is still alive but the combination of heat and alcohol eventually kill the “germ” or living portion of the seed that would have become a new tree. This seed death causes the breakdown of cellular walls and allows the acids from stage two to penetrate the seed. This has many beneficial effects. The pH of the seed is lowered, rendering it more acidic. Bitter elements in the raw seed are converted by enzymes into more palatable compounds. The colour of the seed changes from the pale pinky-purple to a rich brown. Most importantly, this process creates long and complex chemical chains, sometimes called “flavour precursors”, within the seed. These are elements which we associate with the taste and aroma of fine chocolate but they are only developed through careful drying and roasting – the steps in the chocolate making process that come after fermentation. A well fermented bean still does not taste like chocolate but it now contains the building blocks to become chocolate.

It is interesting to consider that one of the most crucial steps in the creation of fine chocolate happens in the jungle in a very primitive fashion. It depends on random wild yeasts and bacteria overseen by foragers and farmers who are not chocolate makers. Much can, and does, go wrong.

Too short of a fermentation and your beans are tannic and bitter. Too long in the box can leave them open to spoilage bacteria and off flavours. Incomplete bacterial conversion can yield beans which are purple not brown inside and have undeveloped desirable flavour precursors. In many parts of the cacao growing world, it is traditional to ferment without a box at all – a pile of fruit pulp is heaped onto a mat of leaves on the jungle floor. More leaves are placed over top and the whole thing is left to cook. Not a recipe for quality.

Historically, industrial chocolate makers have paid little attention to fermentation: they can always mitigate a bad bag of beans by heavily roasting them, adding lots of extra sugar and blending them with thousands of other bags. Unfortunately, this meant that the farmers who sold to them didn’t have to be too exacting either. Poor quality beans are still the norm in commercial chocolate but change is sweeping through many cacao growing regions thanks to the bean-to-bar chocolate renaissance. Another driving force is a growing consumer base who want to know exactly where their chocolate comes from and what makes it taste that way.

Today’s craft chocolate makers are working with very small lots of beans (sometimes just one bag!). They are trying to preserve the unique characteristics of the cacao and not blend them away. Unfortunately, they have very little control over one of the most critical steps in the process. When a bag of beans arrives at the shop after a journey of thousands of miles one hopes for well fermented beans but doesn’t always get them. This is all the more reason to encourage a very close working relationship and dialogue between farmer and chocolate maker. Many chocolate makers are actually going to the farm and overseeing the fermentation and drying of their beans in person. As a result of this information exchange we are now seeing farmers, who have learned to become very good fermenters, taking the next step and making their own chocolate bars!

News Source:  The Chocolate Project (March 9, 2017)


Nutritional Difference Between Roasted & Raw Cacao Beans

The origin of chocolate is derived from the cacao bean (pronounced “kuh-KOW”), which quite simply are the seeds of the cacao fruit. According to “Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage,” the use of cacao by humans is well beyond 5,000 years old and was eaten by the Native Americans, Aztecs, Olmecs and Mayans. Once symbolic of great wealth, the Mayans were the first civilization to use cacao beans as a source of currency; however, it was the Europeans who first combined cacao with refined sugars.

Raw vs. Roasted

The cacao bean is the food that all of the scientific studies on chocolate are actually referring to, not its sugary refined byproduct. Although major leading chocolate companies make strong mention of their products’ high antioxidant content, the cacao bean has an exceptionally significantly greater antioxidant capacity. The manufacturing of chocolate generally consists of heating the cacao beans at approximately 250 degrees, a process that destroys the world’s most powerful food known for centuries as “the food of the God’s.”

Roasted Cacao

What you probably never learned from reading the wrapper of a candy bar is that the refined sugar found in chocolate depletes the body of minerals, can cause blood sugar disorders and can result in dehydration of the body. The cacao bean has a higher vitamin C content than any other food in the world; however, chocolate contains no vitamin C at all because it is all destroyed when it is heated.

Raw Cacao

David Wolfe, one of the world’s leading authorities on nutrition, discusses in his book “Naked Chocolate” the greater good of eating chocolate in its raw, natural state as the cacao bean rather than as a processed sweet treat. He explains how key nutrients are destroyed and sapped of their health properties when the original cacao bean is excessively heated, roasted, toasted or melted. Wolfe educates his readers of the seemingly endless health benefits possessed by the cacao bean, most of which do not stand a chance of survival once it is heated and converted to chocolate.

Mineral Content

Very few foods in the world can be used as an actual mineral supplement but cacao is one of them. Cacao contains the highest natural source of magnesium, chromium, iron, zinc, copper and manganese, all of which are the most deficient minerals in the world.


Cacao has a long-standing reputation as being referred to as both a “love chemical” and a “bliss chemical.” Cacao contains properties with therapeutic levels that positively affect a person’s mood, memory, appetite, pain perception, feelings of attraction, excitement and euphoria. It also contains high concentrations of arginine, an amino acid that increases sexual desire by increasing blood flow throughout the body.


Cacao contains the alkaloid theobromine, which dilates the body’s capillaries. This process allows other foods that are eaten with cacao to be absorbed deeper into your system more so than through any other process. Cacao is the most complex food in the world. With more than 1,200 constituents, it contains a far greater amount of antioxidants than all of the world’s leading antioxidant-rich foods. Cacao is so powerful that it actually contains 15 times more antioxidants than blueberries, 20 times more than green tea and 30 times more than red wine.


Health Benefits of Raw Cacao Nibs

Chocolate lovers, rejoice: Cacao nibs — bits of the same cacao beans that go into candy bars and hot chocolate — contain healthy antioxidants that can boost your health and possibly even help you live longer. Also called cocoa beans, cacao beans are technically a seed that comes from the Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao nibs are less refined than chocolate liquor or cocoa powder and thus are more nutritionally potent.

The Power of Flavonoids

Healthwise, cacao nibs’ greatest claim to fame is their flavonoid content. Flavonoids are antioxidants also found in tea, grapes and berries, and they appear to improve health by altering cell-signaling pathways, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. The institute notes that more research is needed, but some studies suggest that flavonoids might help prevent cancer as well as brain ailments such as Alzheimer’s disease. Cacao nibs contain more flavonoids than prepared chocolate, and among chocolate candies, the darkest versions are the most flavonoid-rich.

A Healthier Heart

A 15-year study of elderly men published in “Archives of Internal Medicine” in 2006 found that subjects who consumed cocoa had lower blood pressure than those who did not consume cocoa. In addition, cocoa eaters were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or prematurely from any other cause. Researchers also observed that the more cocoa participants consumed, the lower their risks. Although these findings don’t prove that cocoa alone was responsible for the results, they do indicate a possible relationship between cacao and heart disease, as well as one between cacao and longevity.

A Lower-Calorie Snack

Along with their potential disease-fighting power, cacao nibs may help you maintain a healthy weight if you consume them instead of chocolate candy. While 1 ounce of nibs contains about 130 calories, the same-size serving of dark chocolate or milk chocolate contains about 155 calories. The cacao nibs are also sugar-free and contain 11 grams of fiber per ounce, compared to just 2 grams of fiber in the dark chocolate and 1 gram in the milk chocolate. Fiber slows digestion to promote fullness, helping with weight management.

Too Much of a Good Thing

As healthy as cacao nibs may be, eating too many can cause side effects. Cacao contains caffeine as well as a substance called theobromine, both of which are stimulants. Therefore, eating too many cacao nibs may cause anxiety, heartburn, sleeplessness and abnormal heart rhythms, according to New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Sensitivity to caffeine and theobromine varies by individual; some people may experience side effects from just one serving, while others may only experience adverse reactions with large doses.


Stimulants in Chocolate That Are not Caffeine


Yearly, people eat about three million tons of cacao beans worldwide as chocolate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Aztecs of Mexico made a bitter drink called “chocolatl” from cacao beans, maize and water. Today, cacao beans, milk solids and sucrose make up most chocolate foods. A variety of stimulants other than caffeine comprise dark chocolate, white chocolate, milk chocolate, cocoa or chocolate flavorings in candy, desserts and drinks.


Sugar (in combination with milk fat) in chocolate produces an explosion of endorphins and serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain, according to Sometimes referred to as a “sugar high,” the combination can be a mood elevator.


Theobromine is an ingredient in chocolate that can stimulate a person, although it doesn’t affect the central nervous system like caffeine. Theobromine is about one-tenth the strength of caffeine and is a diuretic, and because of its ability to relax the bronchial muscles, can be used as a cough medicine. Theobromine can be toxic to dogs and cats.


Phenylethylamine is another stimulant found in chocolate. According to the, it has a similar chemistry to amphetamines. It releases dopamine in the brain at the mesolimbic pleasure center.


Anandamide can produce psychoactive stimulation as an endogenous cannabinoid, according to However, it is present in such small amounts in chocolate that you would have to eat several pounds of chocolate to get any psychoactive stimulation. The Canadian Medical Association states that endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide can have an analgesic (pain killing) effect.


Raw Cacao Nutrition Information

To the Aztecs, the cacao bean was the food of the gods. The beans are the basic ingredient of chocolate. Recent research has suggested dark chocolate offers some health benefits. Raw cacao beans are an increasingly popular alternative to chocolate. Many people believe the raw beans are better for you than processed chocolate.


Cacao beans are produced by the cacao tree, a small evergreen native to tropical Mexico and Central America. The raw cacao bean has a nutty taste similar to dark chocolate, but somewhat bitter. Raw cacao beans may be eaten by themselves or added as a topping to cereal, desserts and fruit. Some people add honey as a natural sweetener because of the bitter taste.


Good Cause Wellness states that the cacao nib, or peeled cacao bean, has 130 calories in a one ounce serving, of which 110 calories come from fats. There are 12 grams of fat per serving, of which 7 grams are saturated fat. There are no trans-fats or cholesterol in raw cacao beans. Dietary fiber amounts to 9 grams and protein to 4 grams.

Other Nutrients

Raw cacao beans are rich in antioxidants, which lower free radicals, which are chemicals that can alter or damage the body. According to Good Cause Wellness, the beans provide some iron and calcium, but are particularly rich in magnesium. There are 76 milligrams of magnesium per one ounce serving, or 272 milligrams per 100 grams of the beans.


Scientific studies of the effects of dark chocolate indicate that it stimulates the release of endorphins in the human body. As a result, dark chocolate may have an anti-depressant effect. A study in the 2012 issue of the “International Journal of Hypertension” reports that the antioxidants in dark chocolate help to reduce high blood pressure and improve circulation. Advocates of raw cacao beans claim the beans provide these health benefits to a greater degree because the raw beans have a higher level of antioxidants than processed chocolate.


Before you rush to buy a supply of raw cacao beans, keep in mind that the health benefits researchers have discovered are based on studies of dark chocolate, not the beans themselves. Much of the research, while promising, is not conclusive.


Cadbury accused of fudge as it pulls out of Fairtrade
Cadburys Dairy Milk Chocolate Bars (Fair Trade)
News Source: Independent.IE

When Cadbury’s announced seven years ago that its leading brand, Dairy Milk, would be made from Fairtrade cocoa it was hailed as a milestone marking the ideals of its Quaker founders.

The decision in 2009 is still proudly displayed on Cadbury’s website and has been credited with prompting many of its rivals to follow suit.

But the company is facing criticism after pulling out of Fairtrade chocolate in favour of its own “sustainability programme”.

Its American owners, Mondelēz  International, said the move was a “ground-breaking commitment” to help more farmers in the developing world than before, which “builds on” its work with the Fairtrade scheme.

The Fairtrade Foundation, which awards the special status to products that meet strict criteria such as paying farmers a minimum price for cocoa, also claimed it was an “exciting development” which would “empower” more poor communities. But critics described it as the great “Cadbury’s fudge”.

Dairy Milk and other products will no longer be recognised as Fairtrade chocolate and will carry the logo of Mondelēz’s “Cocoa Life” scheme, which it says will involve investing millions of dollars in poor communities, on the front of packets.

But it will still carry the Fairtrade logo on the back as part of a “partnership” with the foundation which will monitor its work.

David Marshall, founder of the Meaningful Chocolate Company, a small British Fairtrade-only producer, said: “We are shocked by this move. It feels like a classic Cadbury’s fudge because they will have dropped Fairtrade ingredients but hope to get the Fairtrade logo on their bars of chocolate. This action will confuse the consumer and many now believe this may put the Fairtrade scheme at risk.

“Many big firms resisted the Fairtrade movement for decades but have gradually started to come over. Many will be saddened that Cadbury has  decided to reverse this trend.”

Under Fairtrade rules, farmers are paid at least $2,000 (€2,345) per tonne of cocoa. The Cocoa Life programme does not have a specific minimum price but Cadbury’s deal with Fairtrade to keep the logo stipulates that producers should not be worse off than under Fairtrade.

In practice, producers in Ghana and Ivory Coast – where the ­Cocoa Life scheme operates – receive a higher rate than the Fairtrade minimum because of laws in those states.

A spokesman for Mondelēz insisted: “The partnership with Cocoa Life will ensure that farmers receive a competitive price for their cocoa, on clear terms of trade, and loyalty payments, which together with programme investments, will deliver value per farmer at least equivalent to that previously delivered by Fairtrade premiums.

“An increase in the quantity of sustainably sourced cocoa that Cadbury buys from farmers means that we will be able to reach more farmers.”

Mike Gidney, chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “We will be holding them to the agreement that the financial package is at least as good as the farmers would get for Fairtrade.” He said the agreement to allow the non-Fairtrade bars to carry the Fairtrade logo would not mislead customers.

IN NUMBERS | Cadbury through the ages

1. Cadbury’s was born in 1824 when John Cadbury opened a shop in Birmingham selling tea and cocoa

2. By 1831 the company had started to specialise in chocolate, and opened a four-storey warehouse

3. The first Cadbury Easter egg was made in 1875

4. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk was launched in 1905

5. The Cadbury family bought a stretch of countryside just outside Birmingham in the 1870s. This became the factory and workers’ village of Bournville. By 1900, the estate included 313 houses set on 330 acres

6. It operates in more than 60 countries and employs more than 46,000 staff

7. In 2010, Cadbury was taken over by American company Kraft

8. It is the second largest confectionery brand in the world

News Source: Independent.IE

Is cacao good or bad for you?

Cacao is full of health benefits and tastes like chocolate, so are there any downsides to this super-food?

News Source:

The benefits of cacao include:

  • Naturopath Aimee Robbins says raw, powdered cacao is full of flavonoids, which act as natural antioxidants. “Antioxidants protect the body from ageing and disease caused by free radicals. Raw cacao contains up to four times the antioxidants of traditional cacao powder, and has the highest antioxidant value of all the natural foods in the world.”
  • Scientists from Cornell University in the US recently discovered that raw cacao contains nearly twice the antioxidant content of red wine, and up to three times the antioxidant content of green tea.
  • Medical herbalist Dominique Finney says the flavonoids in cacao prevent fat-like substances in the bloodstream from oxidising and clogging the arteries. “Cacao has also been found to help regulate blood pressure and reduce cholesterol while building the immune system.”
  • The cacao bean is also rich in magnesium, an energy mineral and vital electrolyte.
  • This super-food is a great source of sulfur which is associated with strong nails, shiny hair and a healthy liver and pancreas.
  • Drinking a cup of hot cacao before meals can diminish your appetite by helping the body tune in to its natural appetite. According to Dr Gabriel Cousens, this is due to cacao’s monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibitors (MAO inhibitors). This is why it is often added to weight-loss supplements.
  • Raw cocoa is an aphrodisiac because it contains anandamide, a substance that induces euphoria. It also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is a mood enhancer. It’s thought that the smell of chocolate may increase theta brain waves and help us to relax.

The con of cacao is:

You can have too much of a good thing. Cacao is very powerful on the central nervous system and over-indulging can interfere with calcium retention. Don’t consume more than 40 grams (or four to six heaped teaspoons) of raw cacao a day.

Cacao Nibs: Superfood that Boosts Energy and Burns Fat

News Source: Dr. Axe

There’s no better time of year to cozy up to the fireplace with a nice cup of hot chocolate. And thanks largely to this wintertime favorite, we’re all familiar with cocoa and other forms of healthy chocolate. But are you familiar with cacao nibs?

Cacao, or Theobroma cacao, is the source of original, natural chocolate. It comes from the seeds of the fruit of the cacao tree, but what most of us think of as chocolate contains no cacao at all — which means it does not contain its healthful, nutrient-packed phytochemicals that our bodies need.

Organic, raw cacao is a superfood containing a variety of unique phytonutrients, including high amounts of sulfur, magnesium and phenylethylamine. These characteristics provide many benefits, such as focus and alertness, while also keeping you in a great mood. Cacao nibs have more antioxidant activity than tea, wine, blueberries and even goji berries. Ultimately, it’s the flavonoids in cacao that makes it an above-and-beyond superfood, and if you still need more reasons to add cacao nibs to your routine, keep reading. (1)

Benefits of Cacao Nibs

The use of cacao for health dates back at least 3,000 years. Based on extensive research, the main health benefits of cacao stem from epicatechin, a flavanol found in cacao. The process of manufacturing dark chocolate retains epicatechin, whereas milk chocolate does not contain significant amounts of epicatechin.

Both epidemiological and clinical studies suggest a beneficial effect of dark chocolate on blood pressure, lipids and inflammation. Proposed mechanisms underlying these benefits include enhanced nitric oxide bioavailability and improved mitochondrial structure and function. (2)

To get these benefits, the cacao needs to be pure. One of the purest forms is in the beans themselves because they have the least processing, and includes cacao nibs. Cacao nibs are cacao beans that have been roasted, separated from their husks and broken into smaller pieces. Their health benefits include:

1. Maintain Muscle and Nerve Function

Cacao beans are one of the best magnesium-rich foods around. Magnesium is a mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies, and cacao nibs contain 272 milligrams per 100 grams.

Magnesium is key to muscle and nerve function, keeping the heart rhythm steady. Thanks to its high magnesium content, along with the effects of epicatechin, cacao improves muscle structure and enhances nerve function. (3, 4)

2. Help You Lose Weight and Keep You Regular

Yes, you can lose weight when eating cacao! Now, it’s critical that you keep this in check, as cacao is high in fat and calories, but if you eat pure cacao or cacao nibs, you can get lots of fiber, which makes you feel fuller.

Don’t confuse this with chocolate bars found at the grocery because you don’t get any dietary fiber when you eat a chocolate bar, but one ounce of cacao nibs has nine grams! That makes cacao nibs ultimate high-fiber foods.

In addition, the fiber found in cacao may help keep your bowel movements regular. In a clinical study, subjects were given cocoa powder supplemented with high-fiber cocoa bran twice daily for two four-week periods, separated by a three-week period in which cocoa was not consumed. The frequency of bowel movements increased and feelings of constipation decreased during the periods when cocoa powder was consumed. (5) The raw cacao in these supplements was behind the constipation relief.

3. Prevent Anemia

Iron is necessary for red blood cell production so as an iron-rich food, cacao can help fight anemic symptoms. You can get 6 percent of your recommended daily iron intake per ounce from raw cacao nibs.

Iron deficiency has side effects like fatigue and malaise. Thankfully, iron is abundant in cacao! To better ensure proper absorption, pair it with a good vitamin C source like a piece of fruit. (6)

4. Reduce Risk of Coronary Disease and Stroke

Antioxidants from chocolate are probably the most common source of benefits that we know. Cacao beans, especially when eaten raw, are some of the most rich high-antioxidant foods around thanks to the phytonutrients available in cacao nibs, helping absorb the free radicals that cause damage in the body.

A study published in Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine reported that epidemiological data shows that regular dietary intake of plant-derived foods and beverages reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. In addition, the study demonstrated the beneficial effects of cacao on blood pressure, insulin resistance, and vascular and platelet function. (7)

5. Treat Diarrhea

Cocoa beans have historically been used as a treatment for diarrhea due to the polyphenols contained in cacao, which inhibit certain intestinal secretions. In a study conducted at Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the dose-dependent effects of flavonoid compounds present in cacao, or molecularly closely related compounds, were tested, resulting in the possible prevention of the buildup of fluid in the small intestine that’s associated with diarrhea. (8, 9)

6. Enhance Mood

Neurotransmitters are the little messengers in our brains that tell our bodies how to behave, ultimately affecting our mood. Cacao and cacao nibs have this amazing ability to act on those neurotransmitters.

Chocolate in the form of cacao stimulates the brain to release particular neurotransmitters, like euphoria, that can trigger emotions. There are two chemicals that cacao produces in our bodies when consumed. One is phenylethylamine (PEA) a chemical that our bodies make naturally. We produce PEA, an adrenal-related chemical, when we’re excited, which is what causes the pulse to quicken, providing us with more focus and awareness. (10, 11)

The other is anandamide, which is a lipid found in cacao known as the “the bliss molecule.” It has obtained this name due to its natural molecular shape, which represents that of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. (12)

Cacao vs. Cocoa

While you can use cocoa powder and cacao powder interchangeably in baked goods, smoothies, homemade raw foods and more, there are some notable differences. Both cacao and cocoa are highly nutritious for you, but if you want more nutrients, cacao is the way to go.

Cacao is an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, cholesterol-free saturated fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, natural carbohydrates and protein. It’s actually thought that the spelling of cocoa originated as a mistake. Regardless, technically speaking, cacao and cocoa are essentially the same things, but cocoa typically refers to a more processed chocolate product with added sugar, versus the raw cacao, which has no sugar — one of the reasons it’s a much better choice.

Cacao, being the purest form of chocolate you can consume, ultimately means it’s raw and much less processed than cocoa powder or chocolate bars. It’s also thought to be the highest source of antioxidants and magnesium of all foods.

The cacao fruit tree produces cacao pods, which are cracked open to release cacao beans. These cacao beans can be processed in many ways. One is known as cacao butter, which again is a less processed form of cocoa butter. Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. It’s white in color and has a rich, buttery texture that resembles white chocolate in taste and appearance.

Cacao butter is made by removing the bean during production. Then the remaining part of the fruit is used to produce raw cacao powder. Similar to chocolate chips that you’ve seen in the grocery store, cacao nibs are cacao beans that have been chopped up into edible pieces — however, they don’t have the added sugars and fats that cocoa contains. They do have all of the fiber, healthy fats and nutrients that make them a great option, though!

Have you heard of cacao paste? This comes from cacao nibs that have been slowly heated, which helps preserve the nutrients. Then the nibs are melted into a bark that’s a less-processed form of dark chocolate bars. Cacao paste, along with cacao powder, is great for raw vegan desserts and raw food diet snacks because it contains more fiber and calories than cocoa powder, since more of the nutrients from the whole bean are still intact.

Now, let’s review cocoa to better understand the differences. 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 and chocolate bars. When anything is heated beyond 104 degrees F, it begins to lose its nutritional value and can longer be categorized as a raw food. Though cocoa may seem inferior to raw cacao, you can still get some nutritional benefits if you choose a variety without added sugars and milk fats or oils. It’s also less expensive.

Cocoa powder is produced similarly to cacao except cocoa undergoes a higher temperature of heat during processing. However, it still retains a large amount of antioxidants in the process, so it still benefits your heart, skin, blood pressure and even your stress levels.

It’s important to pay careful attention to what you buy by looking closely at the ingredients. Be sure you buy plain cocoa powder rather than cocoa mixes since they likely contain sugar. Look for either regular cocoa powder or Dutch-processed or dark cocoa powder.

Dutch-processed cocoa powder (dark cocoa) is cocoa powder that has been processed with an alkalized solution, which makes it less acidic and much richer in taste. Regular cocoa powder retains a more acidic nature and bitter taste and is typically used in baking recipes with baking soda. Cocoa powder is a rich source of fiber with little fat and some protein. (13)

Cacao vs. Cocoa - Dr.Axe


How to Use and Cook with Cacao

Cacao nibs have a chocolatey taste but are not quite as sweet as the chocolate you may find at your local market. Much like coffee beans, their flavor can vary depending on how much they’re roasted.

Cacao nibs are often found with hints of fruity or nutty flavors that have been added. For anyone that’s used to eating milk chocolate, cacao and cacao nibs seem very different, having a more bitter taste. However, it can be an acquired taste and incredibly delicious when added to homemade trail mixes, smoothies, sauces and in baking.

Savory dishes are definitely an easy way to incorporate cocao and cacao nibs. Here a few easy ways to make this superfood work for you.

  • Add it to a salad. Try adding it to vitamin C foods such as bell peppers, broccoli and citrus fruits to help increase the absorption of the iron it contains. Including it in a salad with a citrus dressing and walnuts can add that special secret ingredient.
  • Add cacao nibs to your smoothie. While you want to be conscious of how much you consume, especially if combining with other high-fat foods, it’s the perfect touch to almost any healthy smoothie recipe.
  • Make a delicious quinoa breakfast bowl. It’s delicious in other phytonutrient-rich superfoods such as quinoa, chia seeds and especially delicious when combined with coconut. Check out the recipe below for your next breakfast bowl!
  • Mak it a secret ingredient in your special sauce. Even though you get way more nutrition when it’s not heated beyond 104 degrees F, you still get benefits. Try adding it to your next pot of chili, mole sauce or pasta sauce. You’re sure to impress!

Cacao and Chia Breakfast Bowl with Toasted Coconut

Serves: 1 — double the recipe for 2


  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 ounce cacao nibs
  • 1/2 banana
  • 12 cashews
  • 1 tablespoon raw coconut chips


  1. In a small bowl, blend the chia seeds, vanilla protein powder and almond milk.
  2. Once well-blended, let it sit for about 5 minutes until it thickens.
  3. Meanwhile, chop the banana into small pieces.
  4. Then, place raw coconut chips in a pan on high heat, shaking the coconut in the pan until lightly toasted brown.
  5. Place the banana pieces on top of the mixture, then sprinkle with the cacao nibs and cashews, and top off with the coconut.

History of Cacao Nibs

The tropical tree that produces cocoa beans is called Theobroma Cacao. Theobroma means “food of the gods.”

The indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica have enjoyed cacao since before the time of Christ. It’s been cultivated throughout Mexico, Central America and South America since the Early Formative Period and used as a food, a medicine and even currency. In fact, cacao was so highly valued that the ancient native peoples celebrated it, immortalizing its place in society through things like oral history, stonework and pottery chronicling its use in rituals and everyday life.

Archaeological sites have found ceramic vessels with cacao residues from the pre-Olmec peoples, from several sites in Mexico and throughout Central America, dating as far back as 1750–1900 B.C.

It’s believed that the first to grow the beans as a crop were the Olmec Indians, from 1500–400 B.C. By 600 A.D., Mayans had migrated to the northern regions of South America and took cacao with them, establishing plantations. In Mayan cultures, where it’s believed to be of divine origin, cacao is celebrated with an annual festival in April. The Aztecs believe their god Quetzalcoatl discovered cacao, and the consumption of cacao was restricted to the society’s elite. (14, 15)

Columbus was the first European to learn of cacao upon the capture of a canoe that was carrying it as cargo. Cacao did not become popular in Europe at this time because Columbus was only aware of the currency use of cacao, not the food or medicinal uses. But 20 years later, Cortez recorded its use in the court of Emperor Montezuma.

Cacao was given as a gift, and while Spain and Portugal did not export it to the rest of Europe for almost a century, it gained popularity as a medicine and aphrodisiac before regular shipments to Europe started. Twenty-five years before cocao was used in the preparation of food, the first shop opened in London in 1657 and served it as a beverage. However, it was so expensive that it was typically only consumed by the wealthy.

Chocolate was introduced to the U.S. by an Irish chocolate maker who imported beans from the West Indies to Dorchester, Massl, with his partner, Dr. James Baker. Soon, America’s first chocolate mill was making the famous Baker’s chocolate that you’ve likely heard of today. As demand grew, technology such as the cocoa press was invented to help keep up, slowly bringing the price down.

Today, most Americans consume refined versions that provide way fewer nutritional benefits. However, there are various forms, such as cacao powder, creme de cacao, raw cacao, cacao nibs, cacao beans and cacao butter, that, if consumed in their most raw and natural states, can give way to some amazing health benefits.

Several supposed health effects of cocoa have been considered, including improved heart function and relief of angina pectoris, stimulation of the nervous system, facilitated digestion, and improved kidney and bowel function. In addition, cocoa has been used to treat anemia, mental fatigue, tuberculosis, fever, gout, kidney stone symptoms and even a low libido.

In the 19th century, chocolate became a luxury item. Hence, its consumption was a sin rather than a remedy. Nowadays, chocolate is associated with obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes because most chocolate that’s consumed is loaded with sugars and other chemicals. Therefore, many physicians currently tend to warn patients about the potential health hazards of consuming large amounts of chocolate-based nutrients.

Fortunately, recent discoveries of phenolic compounds in cacao have changed this perception and encouraged research on its effects in aging, blood pressure regulation and atherosclerosis.


Cacao nibs timeline - Dr. Axe


Risks and Things to Know About Cacao

Have you heard that you should not give dogs chocolate? Here’s why: Cacao beans contain theobromine, which makes up 1 percent to 2 percent of the cacao bean. It’s a nervous system stimulant that dilates the blood vessels similar to how caffeine affects the body. This is the ingredient that makes cacao and chocolate unsafe for dogs. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, causing you to have anxiety or affect your sleep, you may want to be careful about how much cacao you consume, if any.

Another important fact is that some think that cocoa provides calcium — however, oxalic acid is a compound found in cacao that inhibits the absorption of calcium. So though there is calcium in cacao, it’s not considered a good calcium source for this reason. In any case, you get more of the calcium by eating cacao than if you eat processed chocolate, because the sugar found in chocolate takes calcium reserves from the body.

Cacao also contains a high amount fat and calories. Consume in moderation, and be ultra-aware when combining with other calorie-dense foods so you don’t over do it. And if you have an allergic reaction, stop consuming it immediately and check with your doctor.

Cacao Nibs Takeaways

  • Cacao is the source of original, natural chocolate that contains a variety of unique phytonutrients, including high amounts of sulfur, magnesium and phenylethylamine.
  • Cacao nibs help maintain muscle and nerve function, lose weight and keep you regular, prevent anemia, reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, treat diarrhea, and enhance mood.
  • Cacao and cocoa are essentially the same thing. The biggest difference is cocoa is heated at a higher temperature during process, thus loses some of the beneficial nutrition cacao contains. Cocoa also typically has more additives, while cacao is typically raw and a bit healthier.

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