Delicious and nutritious, raw cacao is chocolate in its purest form, and it’s now becoming widely popular in blissful treats—without the unhealthy ingredients found in conventional chocolates.
Touted as a superfood by luminaries including David Wolfe, raw cacao (pronounced “kah-kow”) is packed with antioxidants, iron, magnesium, chromium, manganese and “good fats”—omega-6 fatty acids. It is also said to be mood enhancing, through supporting the nervous system with essential amino acids such as tryptophan, and raising levels of serotonin in the body. And because raw cacao has not been heated above 48ºC during processing, it retains its nutrients.
“Raw cacao powder is completely unadulterated, that’s what makes it so healthy,” says Edible Alchemy’s Robin Jackson, who runs workshops on raw, vegan and vegetarian cuisine. “This is a replacement for normal commercial chocolate, which is made from cocoa and packed with sugar, not to mention other things,” she says.
Like cocoa, raw cacao is sourced from the seeds of Theobroma cacao pods (pictured above). The difference is that it remains pure: either pressed into a powder, removing the cacao butter; or broken into “nibs”, or chunks, with the butter intact. Raw cacao butter, used in food and beauty products, is also sold separately in health food stores.
Raw cacao powder is bitter, so Jackson advises the use of natural sweeteners such as raw (unfired) honey, maple syrup and agave syrup. Nuts, berries and desiccated coconut may also add sweetness. Raw food enthusiasts use cacao in recipes with other superfoods, such as açai berries (high in antioxidants and essential fatty acids) and camu camu berries (packed with vitamin C), for an extra dose of nutrients.
“It’s quite rich and potent when combined with other superfoods, so you don’t need as much as everyday chocolate—you’re satisfied with less,” explains Jackson.
When buying raw cacao products, look for certified organic and Fairtrade varieties to ensure farmers in places such as Peru and Bali are treated ethically.
Raw Cacao Wonders
Power Super Foods Cacao Gold, 225g $12.95, is a new certified organic raw cacao powder from Ecuador. It can be used in dessert recipes and for making rich hot chocolate drinks. www.powersuperfoods.com.au
Loving Earth Raw Organic Cacao Butter, 250g $16.90, is a Fairtrade, certified organic butter from Peru. It has been pressed from raw cacao nibs. Use it as a binding agent or for making white chocolate. www.lovingearth.net
Conscious Chocolate Raw Cacao, 45g $6.25, is a chocolate bar with 60 per cent cacao solids. It’s sweetened with low-GI agave nectar and not heated above 42°C, so the raw cacao retains its nutrients. www.consciouschocolate.com.au
Raw cacao chocolates
½ cup coconut oil*
3 vanilla beans, split, seeds scraped, or tsp vanilla bean paste
1/3 cup raw honey*
¼ cup maple syrup
Pinch of Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt
1 ¼ cups raw cacao powder*
1. Place cacao butter and coconut oil in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan half-filled with hot water (make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Stir with a metal spoon until melted and smooth. Cool slightly. Place in a blender with vanilla seeds or paste, honey, maple syrup and salt. Blend until combined and smooth and creamy. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
2. Add cacao powder and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined (don’t overmix, as it can become lumpy—add more melted coconut oil, if necessary).
3. Spoon mixture into two heart-shaped ice-cube trays or a petit four baking tray or paper cases. Cover with baking paper and place in the freezer for 30 minutes or until set. Turn out chocolates from trays and place in mini muffin cases or petit four cases. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4-6 weeks.
* From health food stores.
Variation: Reduce cacao powder by ½ cup and stir in ½ cup mixed dried fruit, berries or desiccated coconut at the end of step 2.
Recipe courtesy of Robin Jackson, Edible Alchemy (www.ediblealchemy.com.au).
To make raw cacao chocolate-coated fruit, make the raw cacao chocolate recipe (above), reducing the cacao powder by ¼ cup. Using toothpicks, dip fruit such as whole strawberries or banana pieces, into the mixture and place on a chilled baking sheet lined with baking paper. Place in the fridge until chocolate is set.