Our team at Evolve loves all things chocolate. However, our love for raw cacao seems to go beyond a temporary obsession, it has become a staple of our afternoons. Again, we have partnered with a wonderful wellbeing writer Susie Vandi to explore the benefits of cacao and share with you some of our favourite cacao drink recipes.
What’s not to love about chocolate. Books, films and songs have been dedicated to this precious and versatile treat. You can eat it, drink it, practice mindfulness with it, paint with it and in more recent and highly unusual developments, you can even snort it. Chocolate simply tastes great. It can give comfort and a physical, mental and emotional boost. Dark chocolate can be packed full of powerful antioxidants and, according to science, it can also conjure up feelings of being wrapped up in sweet blissful love.
As wonderful as this is though, it turns out that we’ve only been scratching the surface when it comes to what chocolate can offer us. Chocolate, in the form of cacao, has deeper and more insightful gifts to share and these are only just starting to be revealed in the West, most commonly through the powerful ritual of the cacao ceremony.
What is cacao
The chocolate that we’re talking about is the superfood cacao. Raw and unprocessed, cacao is the purest form of chocolate that you can get. However, although all chocolate products are made from cacao seeds, cacao isn’t in the strictest sense either cocoa or chocolate.
Cacao becomes cocoa when it has been processed with high heat but as Cacao is made from cold pressed cacao beans, it retains it’s nutritional value. Once it’s been pressed it is made into nibs, powder or a paste which can then be used in desserts, smoothies, savoury foods, salads and hot drinks.
Cacao definitely is a king amongst foods as it contains a diverse range of wholesome nutrients. These include magnesium which is linked to a lower risk of osteoporosis, good muscle health and an improvement in insulin sensitivity in diabetes, iron which helps to ensure optimum delivery of oxygen to all the body cells, antioxidant flavonoids which are linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease and inflammation prevention, and Phenylethylamine HC which influences the happy feel good hormones dopamine and serotonin leading to an anti depressant effect that curbs the appetite and aids weight loss. Cacao also contains calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, copper, sulphur, magnesium and manganese. Cacao has been described by the Chocolate Shaman as “One of the best productive focus enhancers and creativity facilitators on the planet.”
What makes cacao ‘ceremonial’ and what are the effects?
Cacao, a ‘food of the Gods’ originated in Mexico and Central America and was consumed by pre Columbian cultures more than 5000 years ago. It was held in a very high status and used as a major currency system. Several mixtures of cacao are described in ancient texts and they were used for ceremonial, medicinal and culinary purposes. The Olmeca civilisations used cacao in their spiritual ceremonies and the Mayans used it to make a ritual drink that was shared during martial unions.
For newbies the easiest way to access ceremonial cacao is through a cacao ceremony which is held with a group of people and may also include yoga, meditation or dance - all perfect accompaniments to cacao drinking. At the ceremony you can expect to be given a ceremonial dose of cacao blended with spices and sometimes plant based milk and honey.
Although it can affect people in different ways, when drunk, ceremonial cacao has the capacity to be a powerful yet calming heart opener that draws the attention inwards, harnesses inbuilt intuition and helps to bring challenging emotions to the fore. Ground in emotional blocks and beliefs that no longer serve you, can then be released in a gentle and sensitive way. The drink can also help all types of relationships to blossom as it can bring about a greater feeling of natural connection and compassion and help the cacao drinker to feel more engaged in the flow of life. Cacao has also been credited with helping people to open up so that they may see their life challenges in a new light and move with renewed purpose towards their goals.
In an interview with The Numinous, Guinievere Short a facilitator of cacao ceremonies said “A cacao ceremony is an opportunity to connect to yourself and open your heart. Because of cacao’s ability to increase your connection to your inner self and your heart chakra, it aids in any transformational shift you are working towards, whether you are looking to deepen your understanding of who you are, release old patterns and traumas, or move into a more self-confident space. Whatever your path, the intention is yours to set, and the cacao allows you the insight and awareness to move towards that goal.”
“I’m continually amazed by the transformational aspect of working with cacao, and there have been many emails and phone calls to tell me that since their cacao ceremony, ‘everything has changed’. When used in a ceremonial and intentional way, cacao gives you an opportunity to move towards the fullest expression of who you truly are…and this can be catalytic in removing barriers in all areas of your life; relationships, career, personal growth, creativity, or wherever your focus is. Ultimately, cacao can help deepen your connection to your heart, and expand your capacity to love and be loved. Everyone deserves a taste.”
Simply put if we can patiently surrender to the process, ceremonial cacao has the power to be positively transformational.
How can I make my own cacao?
Cacao is typically made by blending ceremonial grade cacao with hot water and adding the synergist chilli or cayenne pepper, cardamom or cinnamon and ginger and vanilla. Plant based milk may be used together with honey for those wanting to counteract the earthy bitter flavour of the cacao. It’s best to avoid dairy, as cows milk is said to block intestinal assimilation of flavonoids.
If however, it’s your first time drinking cacao, it’s best to try it at a cacao ceremonies instead of making your own. This will help you to better understand in a group setting what this plant medicine can do for you, your first dose can be monitored and you get to hear feedback from other participants. You can generally expect to feel effects of cacao anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes after drinking and it’s recommended that you drink water after your ceremony to avoid any occurrences of headaches or nausea.
There are also a few contraindications to be aware of when working with cacao. As it contains tryptophan and MAO, it’s not recommended for people who are taking anti-depressants. Similarly it should be avoided by people with serious heart conditions as it increases the heart rate. Because of it’s stimulating effects, pregnant or nursing mothers should take a lower dose of the drink. Cacao should not be given to dogs, parrots, horses or cats. For those familiar with ceremonial cacao drinking who would like to try making their own brews, here’s a recipe from Guatemala’s Chocolate Shaman to inspire you and one below from the Paititi Institute.
- 7 cups of filtered or spring water
- 1 pound of Cacao Paste
- Dash chilly flakes or cayenne powder (to taste)
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 – 3 teaspoon(s) cinnamon powder
- 1/2 cup honey (optional)
- Add cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne (according to your preference for spice) to your water in a steel or ceramic pot. Heat water keeping it just below a boil.
- Chop your cacao paste brick and add it to the water once hot.
- Stir the mixture with a whisk for about 5-10 minutes while keeping the temperature just below boiling. The more you whisk it the creamier the texture will be. If it starts to boil it is ok. Just turn the heat down at this point.
- While whisking, add your vanilla. In order to extract the vanilla from the bean, make a slit down one side of the bean and open the pod. Take a spoon and scrape the insides out. Before adding the vanilla to the mixture we find it useful to mix it with a small amount of the chocolate in a small cup so that the clumps dissolve fully.
- When finished whisking, the mixture should be a thick creamy yet fluid consistency. At this point you can turn off the heat. If the constancy is two watery, keep the heat on in order to allow more water to evaporate or add more cacao. Add optional honey.
- 1/4 cup for a light dose (about .5oz of cacao)
- 1/2 cup for a normal dose (about 1oz of cacao)
- 1 cup for a strong ceremonial dose (about 2oz of cacao)
Evolve Wellness will be hosting a shamanic cacao ceremony in May and July.
Written by Susie Vandi.