The Story Of Cacao: So Much More Than Chocolate
"Cacao comes from the rainforest to open people's hearts and bring the Earth to a state of Harmony" - CacaoAmor.
When was the last time you had some chocolate?
Perhaps it wasn’t that long ago. As you reminisce about it now, you can probably remember the taste of it in your mouth or more importantly how it made your feel. Peaceful, happy, energised, content?
Chocolate is magic. Chocolate is everywhere! It has spread across the globe and can be found in various forms in all seven continents. Surprising to some, the world’s favourite treat comes from a tree! The Theobroma cacao tree to be exact, domesticated in what we now know as South America at least 6,000 years ago. Cacao is produced from the seed of the Theobroma Cacao tree. Cacao pods from the tree provide the beans, these are then fermented, dried and roasted to produce chocolate ‘Liquor’ also known as cacao paste, which is the basis for all ‘chocolate’ products.
However, Cacao’s history not a sweet as chocolate. At it's first appearances and cultivation we assume that the pulp of the cacao pod was eaten fresh and, whilst we know little of its ancient usage, when the Spanish arrived to the Americas, cacao beans were used as currency or ground down and made into drinks reserved for royalty. Recent genomic research in Ecuador has found evidence of the use of Cacao from around 3300 B.C., some 500 to 1000 years prior to its apparent use in Central America. Suggesting an alternate history of the cultivation of cacao which was thought to have begun with the Mayans.
Exportation of cacao from Ecuador to Europe began with the Spanish in the 17th century, though perhaps the pod had been shared was before then, by indigenous peoples who visited far away lands. By the mid 1800’s Ecuador was the biggest exporter of cacao in the world. At that time, cacao cultivation was a monopoly run by the elite, with farms worked by slaves, both indigenous to South America and from Africa. As recently as the 1940s workers could be seen wearing the pearl necklaces and bracelets that served as the only payment for their labour.
Disaster struck in the early 19th century with the arrival of fungal pests affecting Ecuador’s heirloom cacao varieties, including the world famous Arriba Nacional. Ecuador’s export of cacao plummeted to less than 10% of the world’s export. This was a sad chapter in Cacao’s history; the vast majority of cacao crops were moved to Africa.
Clone species were also introduced, such as CCN51 which yields twice as much cacao and it does not need the protection of the jungle’s canopy. The nutritional properties and flavour profiles of these newer clones lacked the diversity of those found in heirloom cacao. In addition child slavery became the norm in the cultivation and harvesting of cacao, specially in Africa, an issue still present to this day; hence why is so important to educate ourselves and buy fair trade chocolate.
Although in Ecuador and other parts of the world Cacao cultivation practices have improved, the farmers are still struggling. Their biggest challenges come in the form of underpayment for their crops, introduced pests, cloned species, chemical farming, deforestation for things such as cattle and more recently, global warming. In Ecuador whilst some cities are seeing record breaking temperatures of over 37C, in areas where cacao grows, there is often non-stop rain for months. This has meant that the trees are not ready for harvesting at the usual time, drastically reducing the number of successful annual harvests.
Yet this is not something that the average ‘chocolate’ consumer may consider when they observe the apparent abundance and range of bars and powders on the shelves of their local supermarket. Truth is this seemingly ubiquitous product, produced from cloned species grown in Africa and harvested by often unpaid labour, is a far cry from ancient Ecuadorean lineage that gave birth to Cacao. To the extent that it cannot really be considered to be ‘cacao-based’ at all, in its truest form.
Cacao is so much more than Chocolate! The stories and myths about Cacao’s creation are many, from it being a gift from the gods to humans; to beings from another galaxy showing our ancestors how to create the tree by crossing wild strains. Whether nature, nurture or divine intervention, the Theobroma cacao tree was born, as too was many a lifelong relationship with humankind.
Cacao Consumption & Wellbeing
Remedies derived from the cacao beans have been used in spiritual practices, ceremonies and to treat a range of physical ailments in the past. Many of these benefits are supported in the research literature alongside more recent evidence that suggests a positive relationship between Cacao consumption and cardiovascular health and the lowering of blood pressure, alongside antioxidant, anti-influenza, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic properties. Research has also identified a number of potential psychological benefits of consuming Cacao, including improvements in cognitive performance, stress management, mood and wellbeing.
Cacao can be used as a drink, added to foods or made into chocolates and has some amazing health benefits. Theobromine Cacao contains more than 333 bio-active compounds. Some you may know such as Magnesium, Iron and Potassium. Some you may be less familiar with; Anandamide, Phenylethylamine, Tryptophan, Methylxanthines and Flavanols (Please see 'Cacao and The Chemistry of Wellbeing' in our blog, for more information on these fabulous compounds).
Cacao is a natural antidepressant, anxiolytic and has many other health benefits. It reduces blood pressure, reduces stress and promotes the production of beneficial neurotransmitters such as serotonin and anandamide (known as the 'Happiness Hormone' and 'Bliss Molecule' respectively). Cacao nurtures your heart, body and mind, physically and energetically, helping you to achieve holistic wellbeing.
Cacao contains beneficial neurotransmitters and near-modulators already present in our brain, including:
- Serotonin - Helps with wellbeing, and creates resistance to stress. Cacao also has MAO inhibitors, that inhibit re-uptake of serotonin.
- Norepinephrine - The Joy molecule.
- Dopamine - Gives feelings of motivation and pleasure. MAO inhibitors present in Cacao inhibit the re-uptake of dopamine.
- Anandamide - The Bliss Molecule! Cacao is one of two only foods we know, that contain Anandamide. This compound moderates pain, and is released by our body when we take time in nature, giving us feelings of euphoria.
- Phenylethylamine (PEA) Helps with excitement, alertness and attention. Helps us be in the NOW.
- Cacao's Magnesium, Iron and Sulfur are all of prime importance for our wellbeing and optimum functioning of our endocrine system.
(For more information on 'Cacao & the Chemistry of Wellbeing', see our latest blog post and download our research article)
Spiritual and Emotional Benefits
Cacao can align us with our highest purpose in life; helping us remember who we truly are, achieving our fullest potential. At CacaoAmor we believe we are here to express Love and Joy on this Earth. Cacao enhances the qualities of what is already there, helping us release stagnant emotions creating space for healing and celebration. Cacao facilitates and strengthens the communication between our three brains, the Har (stomach/womb), Heart and Mind, helping us restore our birthright of pleasure and happiness.
Cacao can aid you into living according to your values, healing the Earth and yourself. Live your best life!
Through our Garden of Amor Foundation, when you purchase cacao from CacaoAmor you are preserving Cacao's native habitat and improving the quality of life of those who protect and care for it.
Much love to you, from our heart to yours x