As always, when I look for a healthy-alternative product to replace a product I was using before I made all of these changes, the first thing I do is research both items. I mean, it’s one thing to say “I’m not going to eat (insert bad food choice here) anymore”, but if I replace it with something just as bad, or worse, than why even bother?
Chocolate, as you’re probably already aware, goes back thousands of years, most likely back to a group of people known as the Olmec. They lived in tribal communities in what is now south-central Mexico, near where the current states of Veracruz and Tabasco are located. This was around 1600 B.C., but there is evidence dating back even earlier, perhaps back to 4500 to 5500 B.C. The word they used for tree that produced the cacao bean (that alien looking thing in the picture), was kakawa. This eventually became the Aztec word, cacaua, and finally, the English word, cacao.
What you might not know about the cacao bean, is that there are two ways to process it into powder. The first is to cold-press it beans, which squeezes out all of the cacao butter. What remains is then dried and ground into powder. When the beans are processed in this fashion, they retain all of the amazing health benefits that researchers have been claiming to belong to chocolate. Here is a list of just a few:
No wonder all of those health studies have been saying chocolate is good for you. Oh, wait…commercially manufactured chocolate isn’t made from raw cacao, is it? It’s made from cocoa powder. What’s the difference?
Well, cocoa powder is processed differently. The seeds are heated before they are ground, and then they are alkalized. These two processes make the powder a bit richer and remove some of the bitterness of the cacao bean, giving chocolate that amazing texture and taste. But it also does something else. It changes the molecular structure of the cacao, and a good portion of the nutritional benefits dissipate. As in, they go away.
What you’re left with still has some health benefits, just not as much as all of those health studies say – because those studies are based on raw cacao, not processed cocoa.
For example, in its raw state, 100 grams of cacao powder has an antioxidant factor (measured as ORAC, or oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of 95,500. This represents the antioxidant capacity of the product being measured. Roasting and chopping the cacao beans into nibs reduces that capacity to 62,100, which is still pretty high, but processing it all the way to cocoa powder further reduces it to only 26,000, or only twenty-seven percent of the original.
So, why do chocolate producers prefer cocoa powder over cacao? Simple. The cost. Most of the cocoa powders on the market are made using what is known as dutch-processing. Basically, another ingredient is added (baking powder) to alkalize the powder. There are also brands that add sweeteners and emulsifiers, stretching the original product out even more, and further reducing the health benefits.
Bottom line, raw cacao powder can be substituted in ANY recipe that calls for cocoa powder without changing the final product. Therefore, whenever possible, choose raw cacao over cocoa every time.
And, as always, come back tomorrow if you want a great vegan, gluten-free, HEALTHY recipe that includes what is still my favorite food – chocolate!!