Cacao (Theobroma Cacao) : Possibly The World’s Most Beloved Herbal Medicine
In the news, we regularly read that “chocolate is good for you” — especially dark chocolate, with purported benefits of boosting metabolism, aiding heart health and enhancing brain function. Of course, like many things we read in the news, we may wonder if it is actually true…
Natural health food stores — and even, yoga studios — are also now selling raw cacao, the unprocessed form of chocolate, as a key ingredient in smoothies and natural desserts.
But are chocolate and cacao actually good for you?
The History of Cacao
For thousands of years, raw cacao (the unprocessed form of chocolate) has been used as medicine, food, beverage and to enhance spiritual ceremony by the people of Central and South America. During marriage ceremonies, a beverage made from cacao beans was also used to enhance desire in new couples.
Cacao’s Greek name, Theobroma literally means “Foods of the Gods”, since its use was restricted to royalty and high priests during a certain period of Central and South American history.
Actually, the bean was so prominent in Central American culture that it was used as a currency (“small change”) until the 1850s.
The Medicinal Properties of Cacao
In its natural state, cacao has some incredibly beneficial properties: it warms the belly, opens the heart, enhances circulation, elevates the mood and simulates brain activity. Cacao is also incredibly high in anti-oxidants, as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium.
The energy of cacao stimulates movement (rajas), heat, passion and earthy sensuality, making it an excellent, natural medicine for occasional use.
Ayurveda on Cacao
In its natural state, ayurveda considers cacao to be balancing for kapha dosha, which makes sense, since it comes from the part of the world where kapha-types dominate. Unfortunately, cacao is often prepared with fat and refined sugars, which promote obesity and weight gain for kapha.
Raw cacao is increasing to vata (too stimulating) and pitta (too heating). However, we can still enjoy cacao by preparing it with ingredients which are balancing, such as almonds, fruit, maple syrup, coconut milk, nut butters, salt, chili, cinnamon or other herbs/spices.
Using the Medicine of Cacao
Cacao makes an excellent food to enhance pleasure, passion and celebration, or to boost energy in times of overwork or fatigue.
If you find yourself regularly addicted to cacao or chocolate, you may want to check that you are not missing something in your diet (e.g. magnesium).
As much as possible, try to reduce your consumption of commercially processed chocolate brands (Lindt, Hershey’s, Nestle), which tend to have only a fragment of the benefits of raw cacao and poor labour conditions and environmental impacts in the third world.
Making the switch to fair-trade and organic brands (such as Ottawa-based Cocoa Camino or Giddy Yoyo) will leave you more satisfied, less addicted (because they used natural ingredients) and feeling good about the communities that you’re supporting.