Cacao, Theobroma cacao, is a tropical evergreen tree in the family Byttneriaceae. It is native to Central and South America and is cultivated extensively for its seed, which is the source of COCOA, CHOCOLATE, and cocoa butter. Cacao is a wide-branched evergreen that grows up to 7.5 m (25 ft) tall and bears seedpods up to 30 cm (1 ft) long and 10 cm (4 in) thick, with a hard leathery shell. Pods contain as many as 40 seeds, or beans, some up to 2.5 cm (1 in) wide. Several species of Theobroma are cultivated in tropical America. The principal species used for cocoa, is grown throughout the wet, lowland tropics, especially in south-east Asia, South America, and West Africa, where the trees are planted under the shade of taller trees. They usually bear fruit 4 years after they have been planted. Workers harvest cacao beans with knives. After extraction from the fruit, the beans are placed in piles, covered with banana leaves, and allowed to ferment; afterward they are dried to prevent moulding. They are then sacked and shipped to chocolate or cocoa manufacturers. Cacao beans were once used as money by the people of Mexico and Central America. There are three broad types of cocao plant: FORASTERO and CRILLO plus TRINITARIO which is a hybrid of Forastero and Crillo. Within these types are several varieties.
Theobroma cacao tree is found in the Amazon forests as well as in other tropical regions. It produces three types of beans, which are the Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. All are used to create chocolate and offer distinct health benefits.
Theobroma cacao is native to South America, growing naturally in the Amazon River Basin as well as the Orinoco River Basin. It is also farmed in other areas such as Ghana, Indonesia and the Philippines. The tree grows from 10 to 30 feet (3-9 meters) in height and usually starts to bear fruit four years after being planted.
The Theobroma cacao tree’s fruit is known as cacao pods. When ripe, they are a hearty yellow or orange and weigh just about a pound. Each contains many seeds referred to as cacao beans. These seeds can be extracted and made into cocoa butter. This butter is a pale-yellow vegetable fat that is used to not only make chocolate but also pharmaceuticals, ointments and toiletries.
The nib is found at the center of the bean. This is what is used to make chocolate. Nibs are rich in antioxidants as well as good fats and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron and potassium. They have a byproduct similar to caffeine and produce a natural MAO inhibitor that can suppress overactive appetites.
The Criollo species of the bean is the rarest and most costly with only 10 percent of chocolate cultivated from this type. The taste isn’t as bitter as other types of beans and the scent is more aromatic. This species is harvested mainly in Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
Forastero beans are used in 75 to 90 percent of the world’s chocolate. They are often referred to as bulk beans because of their predominant use in chocolate production. The term Forastero means foreign in Spanish. Trinitario beans are a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero and are used in about 10 percent of chocolate.
For those who are familiar with the health perks associated with diets rich in antioxidants, cacao nibs are rich in flavonoids, a powerful antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals that cause cell damage, as well as increased risk to heart attack, cancer and other cardiovascular related complications. Research shows that cocoa nibs provide an excellent source of antioxidants than other foods. For instance, antioxidants found in cocoa nibs are powerful than those found in wine.
2. Reduces cancer risk
Antioxidants play an essential role to your overall health. Besides improving cell health, they also reduce your chance of developing certain types of cancer. Furthermore, they promote ‘’good’’ cholesterol level in the body and lower triglyceride levels, thereby lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.
3. Boosts cardiovascular health
Cacao nibs also contain high magnesium content, which prevent your chance of blood clots. This is beneficial for those concerned about protecting themselves against stroke and heart attack. Nonetheless, research is ongoing to determine whether these theories are factual.
Cacao nibs contain many essential substances that are believed to improve your overall health. They act as anti-depressants as they contain neurotransmitters which help to promote a healthy mental state and positive mood.
5. Lowers high cholesterol
Recent studies indicate that cacao nibs can help to lower ‘’bad ‘’ cholesterol and triglycerides in the bloodstream, thereby protect you against stroke and heart attack.
Just like any other types of food, you should put in mind that moderation is the key to avert potential side effects.
~Anandamide (the only food that contains this neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of “bliss”)
~ N-linoleoylethanolamine (prevents the re-uptake of anandamide)
~Phenethylamine (PEA, a neurotransmitter known as the “love molecule”)
~Seratonin (a neurotransmitter that acts as a “stress defense shield” by making you feel good)
~Dopamine (a neurotransmitter that boosts motivation and pleasure)
~MAO Inhibitors (prevents the re-uptake of serotonin and dopamine)
~Coumarin (has appetite suppressant, blood thinner and anti-tumor properties)
~Theobromine (controversial but actually quite beneficial for humans, see last section)
~Asparaginase (an enzyme that has anti-leukemia properties)
~Ergosterol (a precursor to vitamin D)
~Sitosterol (decreases LDL cholesterol)
The nutrient density of raw cacao benefits every function of the body. One of the many cool facts about chocolate is that it is the highest source of magnesium and chromium of any food! Magnesium is the most deficient mineral in the average human. All of the compounds found in raw cacao benefits longevity in humans.
~Vitamin B (1, 2, 3, 5 and 6)
~Omega 6 Fatty Acids
~Soluble Fiber (which is the type people need more of)
~Enzymes (including catalase, lipase and amylase)
~Other Beneficial Phytonutrients
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