Wellness Encyclopedia: Cacao

Consider this your secret weapon for fighting the seasonal shift…

Fall is a finicky season. Just this past week, the temperature dipped to 40 and then shot back upwards, hovering just below what might be considered normal… for June. From my fellow commuters I heard grumbles of upset immune systems, ill-chosen sweaters and flaring allergies mingled with excitement over one last day to wear a favorite dress or pair of sandals. Flirtatious as always, summer seemed as though it was here to stay for good, teasing us with too-warm days and chilly nights. But then on Tuesday, I stepped out the door to be greeted with what was arguably the most perfect autumn day… possibly ever. A shockingly blue, clear sunny sky, the smell of fallen leaves rising from the earth, and a slight breeze in the surprisingly crisp air. It had arrived. November. I’ve always loved this month, a gateway to the holidays and to the cold season ahead. When foliage still clings to the trees, but frost paints the windows. However, there’s one thing I’m not anticipating: falling back to Daylight Standard Time.

See, that perfect fall day hadn’t started so perfectly. My alarm sounded all too early, with no morning light to permeate my curtains — and, with the time change approaching, those early mornings are only going to feel earlier. Aching to return to whatever dream I had been jolted from, instead I fumbled to the kitchen and pulled out my secret weapon for fighting the seasonal shift: cacao. This delicious powder packs a major punch in the mood-lifting, energy-boosting department, perfect for combatting seasonal affective disorder and the low energy than can come with darkening days and chilly weather. The unprocessed parent of cocoa, cacao boasts nearly unbelievable levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Read on to learn about cacao and how to make it a delicious addition to your fall routine.


What is it? Hailing from Central and South America, cacao comes from the Theobroma Cacao tree, where the cacao beans are hidden away in large pods. While they come from the same place and sound similar, cacao and cocoa are frequently confused — and for good reason. I mean, aren’t they the same thing? While the two have the same origin, the difference lies in the details. Cocoa is processed and heated to mellow the flavor, losing somewhere between 60% and 90% of its nutrients, and cacao is left in its purest form, maintaining a higher level of vitamins, minerals and micronutrients. Cacao can be found in several forms, the most widely available being cacao nibs, which are the crushed shells of the beans themselves, and cacao powder.


What are the benefits? We’ve all been told that dark chocolate has its health benefits, but did you know that cacao has even more? Because of its minimal processing, cacao retains more nutrition than traditional chocolate. Boasting over 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries (cacao’s ORAC score is roughly 98,000 per 100g) and the power to boost mood and mental clarity, cacao’s health benefits shouldn’t be swept aside. With magnesium to turn up that all-important brain function and keep your heart pumping, iron to support healthy development, and fibre for gut health, cacao also aids in one key area: happiness. Because it contains the mood-boosting chemicals serotonin, anandamide, phenylethylamine and dopamine, cacao has been shown to boost feelings of wellness, which is really good news for those of us dreading turning back our clocks this weekend.


How do I use it? Cacao can be used similarly to cocoa powder, though the taste is somewhat different and may take some getting used to, especially if you’re more accustomed to traditional chocolate. Think of cacao as dark chocolate and cocoa powder as milk chocolate — similar but different. Once you’ve developed a taste for it, cacao lends itself to everything from sweet desserts to savory sauces (think mole sauce). Add it to smoothies and hot drinks (I love it stirred into my morning coffee), chia pudding, yogurt or oatmeal. It’s also a great addition to baked goods and raw desserts.

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Energizing Hot Cacao Milk


2 tbsp raw cacao powder

1 tsp coconut oil

1 tsp Action Dust

8 oz nut milk (I used coconut-almond milk)

Maple syrup or sweetener of choice, to taste

Pinch of sea salt (optional)

Place all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat on low, whisking often until hot and frothy. Pour into a large mug. Enjoy!

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+ Check out more cacao recipes from BLDG 25!

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6 years ago

What a beautifully written post! I’ve experimented a little with cacao nibs, but was a little turned off by the texture. I’m excited to try stirring some powder into my coffee for a little mood-boosting hit with my energy elixir for the day!