Cacao comes from the Theobroma Cacao tree. Theo meaning God, Broma meaning food. Food of the gods. Originating from Mesoamerica, cacao has historically been used as a currency in rite of passage rituals and in some places was a sacred elixir reserved only for warriors and the elite. What we know of as hot chocoalte today, originated from maya and pre-mayan cultures as a warm, unsweetened, bitter beverage made from cacao beans and spices.
Cacao is a pharmacologically complex super food, not only packed with beneficial minerals for your gut like magnesium, zinc and copper, but is also rich in neuro-chemicals already present in our brains that uplift mood and positively enhance the state of mind, like norepinepherine, serotonin, dopamine and anandamide, the bliss molecule.
So what’s the difference between cacao and cocoa? Simply put, the cocoa and chocolate we find in stores are highly processed with added fillers, sugars and dairy products, containing less than 10% of the real cacao bean and are most often sourced unethically. The MASSIVE chocolate companies, Herhseys and Mars, are under lawsuits for child labor and severely unethical practices. Check out F.E.P.’s Chocolate List if you’d like to learn about the ethical and sustainability practices of your favorite chocolate brands and distributors. Vote with your dollar, my friends.
You can usually find products containing higher amounts of cacao at common health food stores. I recently picked up a theo chocolate bar containing 85% cacao! But my favorite form of chocolate is ceremonial grade cacao, 100% cacao made from the whole cacao bean, which includes up to 50% cacao butter, a very important carrier fat for all the nutrients (in cacao powder, the fat is removed, which also removes a lot of the delicious flavor).
My preferred brand is Firefly Chocolate, originally gifted to me by a friend, and is the only chocolate I’ve worked with since. When I say worked with, I mean worked with as a medicine. When used properly, one can connect with cacao as an ancient plant medicine. Set and setting is very important, similar to all other plant medicines. If you eat psilocybin mushrooms in a basement at night with a group of strangers, you’ll likely have a different experience than you would taking them outside on a sunny day with a best friend. Same with marijuana, taking marijuana during a highly stressful situation will produce different effects than taking it in a comfortable state of mind. I often hear of people not reaping the mental benefits of cacao because they drink it as they’re racing out the door for work, or after a work out and before dinner. You’re still getting all the beneficial antioxidants and nutrients, but the blissful neuro-chemicals aren’t necessarily given the space to perform to their full potential.
When I drink cacao in the mornings I create my space, getting out my journal, reading pages in a current favorite book while I wait for my water to heat, spending little to no time on my phone so as to keep my thoughts at bay. When the water’s hot, I make a recipe that calls to me that morning (I’ll talk about recipes next!), being sure to set an intention for my morning drink. I speak to the cacao, inviting her to heal me, inviting her to open my mind and heart, and then I sit and drink, journaling my thoughts or sitting in a meditative state or my favorite, going outside to dance in front of these gorgeous…… heart STOPPING mountains.
My recipe changes every day and yours will too depending on the flavor and healing profiles you’re looking for. Pure cacao is very, very bitter and takes a bit of time for your palate to adjust to, similar to wine or coffee. Some of my favorite ingredients for flavor are Dandy blend, a non-caffeinated coffee substitute made from roasted dandelion and chicory root, a splash of hemp or nut milk, cayenne pepper and a sprinkle of sea salt, or a little bit of coconut oil. I don’t prefer to sweeten my cacao, but a lot of people do to help them adjust to the new flavor. If you prefer a sweeter flavor, Firefly makes a delicious Maca blend sweetened with coconut sugar that’s so good I can eat it like candy, or try adding a dash of honey or pure maple syrup.
Various nutritional ingredients I love adding to my morning cacao drinks are pine pollen - a hormone regulator and aphrodisiac, Maca root - a kick of energy, Lion’s mane mushroom for immune support, Ashwaganda - an adaptogen used to treat stress and anxiety, and Kava - improves mood, promoting relaxation.
The options are endless. Do a little research, experiment for yourself and find what tastes and feels good.
Check out the video to see these recipes in action! If you give cacao a try, send me a message and let me know what you think! Happy healing!