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Heart Centered Heritage

CACAO UNCOVERED

blue and yellow cacao drawing

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Chocolate’s reputation as an all-around favorite has origins dating back 4,000 years. Though the confectionary crowd-pleaser we know today goes through a few chemical processes (and cups of sugar) before it’s Hershey-perfect, its foundation is the cocoa bean. Known as the “food of the Gods,” drawings and texts of sacred Mayan, Aztec, and Olmec rituals feature cacao trees and the special vessels made to enjoy the bitter drink made from its seeds in daily use and ceremonies. The ancients revered cacao for its ability to induce a clear-minded, blissful state that enhanced sacred spiritual pursuits. The mighty, mystical plant was so valuable, there are records of cacao seeds being used as currency throughout the region’s pre-Columbian era. We sourced the raw truth about this beloved bean from cacao expert and instructor Kathryn Rogers, Founder and CEO of Maya Moon Collective, an organic cacao and craft chocolate café and event space dedicated to creating a healthier world through cacao.

Bridging Mind and Body

When it comes to nutritional powerhouses, chocolate might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants called flavonoids (40x more than blueberries!), which are known to reduce blood pressure, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease, cacao is truly a force to be reckoned with. It’s one of the highest food sources of iron, with a single serving offering around 25% of the recommended daily value, as well as magnesium for relaxing muscles and energy production. Beyond the nourishing bioavailable fats, vitamins, and minerals plentiful in cacao, it’s got two unique compounds that marry mind and body for incredible whole-being benefits. The first is theobromine, a potent cardiovascular stimulant that works to both circulate energy and cleanse toxins via blood flow through the heart — which is why cacao is known as a heart opener. Cacao also offers the “bliss molecule,” anandamide, which activates cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Paired with the serotonin and dopamine naturally found in cacao, it’s no wonder chocolate’s become the go-to feel-good food.

How the Cups Stack up

Drinking a cup of cacao to start your day or as an afternoon boost is a wonderful way to invigorate your energy, support your health, and invite heart-centered awareness. While the kick from coffee comes from caffeine, a nervous system stimulant that activates the flow of cortisol and adrenaline, cacao’s active compound, theobromine, is a cardiovascular system stimulant. This means cacao provides a clear-headed energy boost that can last up to six hours, thanks to the slower release from cacao’s natural fats.

Unlike coffee, cacao has very few contraindications. If you’re pregnant or trying to reduce your stimulant intake, keep in mind that a cup of cacao or two ounces of dark chocolate contains 10-20 mg of caffeine (about four times less than a cup of coffee). If you’re sensitive, you may want to avoid cacao right before bed. Listen to your body and let cacao guide you to the quantity and frequency that’s right for you.

Hunt for the Heartiest Stuff

Many people think that cacao powder, “raw” cacao powder, and whole bean cacao are the same thing. Unless you’re eating the raw cacao fruit straight from the pods, “raw” cacao powder has gone through various processes before it reaches you. First, cacao fruit is harvested and the fibrous shell is split open to reveal a sticky white fruit that contains 40-50 cacao seeds. The seeds and fruit are then fermented in leaves or wood boxes for up to a week, a process that naturally generates temperatures up to 105°F and locks in nutrients and flavor profiles. The seeds are roasted over a fire or in an oven to loosen the papery husk and develop richer flavors. Once roasted, the husk is removed and you’re left with cacao nibs. These can either be enjoyed as-is or ground with stones or machinery to make cacao paste. Nibs and paste retain the densest nutrient availability, since the seed is still intact with its natural fat. This is not the same as cacao or cocoa powder which is processed to remove the fat. Look for cacao that’s 100% organic and whole bean, either as a brick or paste that you can shave into small pieces or pre-ground into a drink mix.

Crazy for cacao?

Amp up your baked goods by swapping chocolate chips for cacao grounds or nibs. Try sprinkling organic cacao nibs on top of a smoothie or ice cream for some nutty crunch and added nutrients.

Roots Matter!

More than 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in West Africa, with prices controlled by a few large corporations. Because farmers are competing to produce as many seeds as possible for the market price, which is often far below what is fair, slave and child labor abuses are common practices. Additionally, many farmers use chemicals that damage their health and the environment to produce more cacao more quickly to try to meet intense demand.

Purchasing your cacao from a trusted source who buys direct from farmers is the best way to ensure your ritual sip doesn’t come at a cost to the farmer and their surrounding communities. Organic and fair trade certifications help to ensure healthier growing practices and fair treatment for farmers, and direct trade takes these principles one step further through personal relationships. There are many small to midsize cacao companies and chocolate makers who purchase direct from farms that support indigenous communities, who continue to grow and process cacao following traditional practices. Research your cacao company and find out where they source their product, how it’s grown, and for information about the farms it comes from. If you can’t find the answer to these questions, it’s a good indicator that they aren’t sourcing direct.

Cacao is a sacred food and medicine whose lineage dates back thousands of years, it’s health benefits lauded in ancient times and by modern medicine. When we enjoy cacao with intentional gratitude, we participate in the plant’s ceremonial invitation to open our hearts to more love for ourselves, each other, and all life.

Visit mayamoon.co to order your signature chakra truffles and shop their line of organic, sustainably sourced, equal exchange artisan cacao drink mixes. Follow @mayamoonco for more cacao heritage and tips.