I visited Costa Rica back in 2011.
In the midst of trying to learn kite surfing in gusty winds, traveling on bumpy roads, and simply hanging out on the beaches, I made sure I visited a cacao plantation. I mean, I love chocolate, the dark stuff. The 99 percent kind of stuff. I want to taste chocolate for what it is, and not all the sugar that masks the intensity of this fruit.
In my heart of hearts, I knew that this thing called cacao was magical—I hadn’t realized how magical it really was, at least, not yet.
There was a small cacao plantation situated along the eastern Costa Rican coast that offered chocolate tours for tourist types. For the next hour, I embarked on a journey which changed my life. I saw cacao in it’s red and yellow hued pods, tasted the fleshy white fruit that surrounds the seeds, and witnessed it’s transformation from bean to what we like to call chocolate.
Theobroma cacao when translated from Greek literally means “food of the gods” (theos meaning “god” and broma meaning “food). The antioxidant and mineral properties of this delicious super food are greatest when it is raw and unprocessed.
In most commercial chocolates, the beans are roasted to bring out a nutty flavor, much akin to roasting nuts.Trust me, it smells amazing, but it also robs the seeds of some of the nutritional value.
Take a look at the some of the benefits of raw cacao:
Antioxidants: antioxidants protect us from age-related health issues. By weight, cacao has more antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, acai and goji berries combined.
Magnesium: an alkaline mineral that is known to support the heart, restful sleep, relaxation of muscles (great for post work-out!), relaxation of cramping during menstruation (you know what I’m talking about ladies!) and increases brain function.
More minerals: iron (blood health and combats anemia), chromium (balance blood sugar), manganese (blood health), copper (blood health and immunity) and zinc (supports immunity, liver, and skin).
Vitamin C: an ounce of raw cacao nibs contains 21percent of recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Once cacao is roasted and processed, the vitamin C content is lost.
Omega-6 fatty acids: an essential fatty acid (EFA) which the body cannot produce and must be taken through food. Omega-6 is essential for brain function, bone health, metabolism, skin and hair, and maintenance of the reproductive system. Any cooked and processed chocolate contains rancid omega-6 which can cause inflammation.
Feel good stuff: raw cacao contains bliss endorphin anandamide, mood enhancer tryptophan, feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin and chemicals produced by the body when we fall in love called phenylethylamine (PEAs). Once roasted, the cacao no longer contains PEAs.
With all this good stuff to offer, here’s a tried and true recipe for you to whisk up at home.
Raw Chocolate Mousse
4 ripe avocados, pitted and lightly mashed with a fork
¼ cup raw cacao powder
¼ cup agave
pinch of cayenne
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Place all ingredients for in a food processor and mix until combined.
Set aside to chill.
Jennifer Radhika Lung serves as a karma yogini, a vegan chef and cooking instructor at both the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Northern California and the Sivananda Yoga Center in San Francisco. Radhika has also trained as a raw food chef at the Tree of Life resort and has been the lead vegan chef in a corporate café for three years. Her cooking style fuses the practice of Bhakti—giving light, energy, and love. She is the author of The Bhakti Kitchen – A yogic way to vegan cooking. She is a lifetime student of yoga and shares her on the mat passion as a certified yoga instructor.
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Asst: Terri Tremblett/Ed: Kate Bartolotta