The beans (which are actually a seed) that are used to make chocolate come from the Theobroma cacoa tree. The problem with commercial chocolate is that it is usually laden with sugar for a sweeter taste sensation, which can counter the positive benefits of eating cacao. But is eating raw cacao all it's cracked up to be? Recent studies suggest not, but the debate continues and the jury is still out.
Theobroma cacao tree. Image courtesy of wikipedia.org
It's true that there are some health benefits to eating raw cacao but don't be fooled by recent claims that it is a 'superfood' loaded with antioxidants. Raw cacao does contain a load of nutrients but research demonstrates that it also contains anti-nutrients, which prevent the nutrients being utilised by the body. A European Food Research and Technology study has proven that there is higher antioxidant activity in cacao beans that have been roasted as opposed to raw cacao beans.
There is speculation that when consumed regularly raw cacao can become addictive, and cause mood swings, headaches and liver problems - but the same can be said of all chocolate.
Image courtesy of Mister GC/freedigitaphotos.net
The nutritional research on raw cacao is limited thus far, and contradictory. To some people however, scientific 'evidence' means very little, preferring to base their choices on personal and anecdotal evidence. I'm personally quite partial to raw cacao and choose to eat it in moderation.
And if you're wondering what the difference between cocoa and cacao is, technically there is none. It's more of a terminology difference that has developed with cocoa relating to a heated, more processed product that has sugar added. Raw cacao on the other hand is less refined, has no sugar added, and is as close to a whole and natural state as you can get.
The verdict? There are so-called experts sitting on both sides of the fence, so the safest option is to consider raw cacao as you would any other treat, and consume in moderation. If you want to experiment with raw cacao in your diet, chew on cacao nibs, add some powder to smoothies, or use it in baking.