TWE Cacao

The Grocer: Cacao

An elixir of happiness and health, cacao is the superfood cousin of cocoa that makes convincing ourselves to eat the block of chocolate in the pantry a no-brainer.

The cacao tree, known as the theobrama cacao, grows in tropical areas surrounding the equator, and is usually planted amongst taller trees to protect it from direct sunlight. Each tree can take three to five years to bare fruit, with the trees growing up to 12 metres in height. The colour of the pods ranges from a brownish-yellow to purple tones, with each fruit reaching about 30 cm in length and housing 20–40 cacao beans nestled within the inner pulp. These inner seeds are then submitted to a drying and fermentation process that produces cacao powder or nibs.

The difference in producing cacao versus cocoa is that cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted beans, protecting the living enzymes that make cacao a superfood. Cocoa on the other hand is roasted at high temperatures, changing the molecular structure of the bean and reducing the overall nutritional value. The flavour of cacao can vary depending on region and variety, with the soil, air temperature and amount of sunshine and rainfall a tree is exposed to also affecting taste.

Suitable for raw, vegan and sugar-free diets, cacao is rich in minerals like magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese. The tasty powder is also high in resveratrol – a potent antioxidant also found in red wine and which contains more antioxidants than acai, goji and blueberries. This raw product also boosts your mood, massaging those neurotransmitters in the brain that encourage a sense of well being.

Studies have shown that dairy inhibits the absorption of antioxidants in raw cacao – so if you’re making a hot chocolate, opt for almond, soy or rice milk to reap all the benefits. Use a hearty sprinkling of cacao to make a raw banana or coconut and avocado smoothie of a morning, or perhaps try this decadent Mexican hot chocolate recipe when the mid-morning cravings hit. You can try adding cacao nibs to your favourite granola recipe or fold them through a wholesome pancake batter for an added crunchy texture. Or if your sweet tooth pipes up post-dinner, whip up this raw avocado mousse or this vegan ice-cream sandwich for dessert.

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