Botanical Name: Theobroma cacao
Daily consumption of dark chocolate will lower blood pressure by two to three points. Sprinkling cacao powder on your oatmeal helps your gut produce important microbes that aid the overall medicinal values of cacao. The darker the chocolate the more flavonoids and flavanols it contains.
Below is an overview of Cacao, combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Cacao.
Western Name: Cacao (Chocolate)
Also Known As: Cocoa
Organs/Systems: Heart, Skin, Brain, Immunity
Key Western Actions: Anti-inflammatory, Antioxidant, Relaxant, Sedative, Anti-depressant, Analgesic, Aphrodisiac, Emolient.
Pin Yin: Qiaokeli
Also Known As: N/A
Meridians: Heart, Liver, Kidney
Key TCM Actions: Tonifies the Heart/Warms Kidney Yang, Clears Cold/Warms the Chest/Moves Blood.
Medicinal Uses: Lowers blood pressure, weakness after long illness, anti-aging, fevers due to colds, cold chest, poor appetite.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Seeds (AKA Beans), Nibs, Pulp
Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Warming, Slight Pungent
Caution: Cacao and chocolate are considered safe. Note however, that too much sugar, (that can be put in chocolate candies) is not good for you and can cause inflammation, poor teeth, skin and other ailments if too much sugar is consumed.
History/Folklore: Cacao has been cultivated by many cultures for over three thousand years in Mesoamerica. The earliest evidence of its use is traced back to the Mokaya people of Mexico and Guatemala. The Mayans and Aztecs both made chocolate beverages. It was called “xocolati” which means “bitter water.” Ceramic vessels with cacao residues have been found dating back to 1900-900 BC.
Several mixtures of cacao are described in ancient texts for ceremonial, medicinal or culinary purposes. These mixtures included maize, chili, vanilla and honey. It is believed cacao was also ground by the Aztecs and blended with tobacco for smoking.
For these early cultures cacao was both a ritual beverage and a major currency system. The Aztecs received a yearly tribute of 980 loads of cacao, in addition to other goods. Each load represented exactly 8,000 beans. 80-100 beans could buy a new cloth mantle.
The Maya believed that cacao was discovered by the gods in a mountain that also contained other food delicacies. In April the ancient Maya celebrated an annual festival to honor their cacao god, Ek Chuah. They also used cacao to fight fevers, aid digestion, uplift the spirit and increase stamina.
Cacao beverages used in rituals were only for men, as it was believed they would be toxic to women and children.
New studies show that chocolate may lower cholesterol levels and prevent memory decline. A few pieces of chocolate every month may make you live longer. Cacao is loaded with antioxidants that help build immunity. The fatty substances in the seeds are now often made into moisturizing creams and lotions that are good for the skin. The high level of flavonoids in cacao give it its anti-inflammatory and stress reducing qualities.
Cacao beans are fermented, dried, cleaned and then roasted. Removing the beans shell creates chocolate nibs that are then ground into a cacao mass of pure chocolate. This substance can then be liquefied (called chocolate liquor), and sweetened or flavored. (The end product, chocolate, is most often flavored with vanilla, but other flavorings are used as well.)
The Latin name, “Theobroma” is derived from the Greek meaning, “food of the gods.”
Cacao was first introduced to Europe as a beverage introduced by the Spanish who learned of it from their meeting with Moctezuma in 1519. Within a century the culinary and medicinal uses of chocolate had spread to France, England and other parts of Europe. The longing for chocolate led the French to establish cacao plantations in the Caribbean.
Chocolate liquor has two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Most chocolate eaten today is in the form of sweet chocolate that is a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter or other fat, milk, sugar, and possibly a flavoring such as vanilla.
White chocolate contains cocoa butter, sugar and milk, but no cocoa solids. Raw chocolate derived from the beans is called the nibs, as it has no other additives mixed with it.
While most of the world’s flowers are pollinated by bees, moths or butterflies cocoa is pollinated by tiny flies.
The pulp from the fruit pods is used to prepare refreshing juices and jellies. It is also now being used to make an alcoholic drink.
While chocolate originated in the Americas, two-thirds of today’s cocoa comes from West Africa, mostly from the Ivory Coast.
Theobromine (similar to Caffeine), Cocoa Solids, Cocoa Butter, Fats, Phenethylaine, Alkaloids, Phytonutrients, Polyphenols, Flavonoids and Flavanols (such as Anthrocyanidin and Epicatechins).
Seeds Are Bitter
The seeds of the cacao tree are intensely bitter and must be fermented in order to develop their flavor.
Flavonoids & Alkaloids
The cocoa solids are the source of the flavonoids and alkaloids (such as theobromine, phenethylaine and caffeine).
Cacao, and by extension dark chocolate, is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
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