Before we talk about this common confusion, here’s some background on cacao, and the origin of both foodstuffs.
Many believe the first people to cultivate the tree were the Olmecs, who lived on the south coast of Mexico around 600 BC. Then the beans were highly prized and traded as currency. Cultivation was limited to preserve their value.
The three main varieties of cocoa plant are Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario. Until the 18th century, plantations mostly grew Criollo beans. However, today they make up less than 5% of cocoa production, with high-yielding Forastero dominating the world market for bulk, mainstream processing.
A single cacao bean contains 54% fat (that’s the cacao butter), 31% carbohydrates (mainly fibre with a tiny amount of sugars), 11% protein (including arginine, glutamine and leucine), 3% polyphenols (flavonols and proanthocyanins) and less than 1% trace minerals including magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.
Historically cocoa performed a number of medical roles, treating conditions from smallpox and yellow fever to cholera and snakebites. Today we know flavanols found in our cacao can increase nitric oxide bioavailability, activate nitric oxide synthase and exert anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet activity – all of which can improve vascular function and reduce blood pressure. Cacao has been studied for its ability to reduce blood pressure and has been shown to produce “a small but statistically significant effect in lowering blood pressure by 2-3mm Hg in the short term” (Schardt, 2013).
Happy, Happy, Happy Energy!
Eating cacao makes you happy! It contains phenylethylamine which controls pleasure and the feelings you get when you are in love. It also acts as a stimulant and can improve mental alertness. Cacao also contains serotonin and dopamine – which also stimulate good moods and ‘pleasure’ feelings.
Anandomide is also found in cacao. It’s present in the brain as an endogenous substance and interacts with cannabinoid receptors. Cacao also contains great levels of magnesium, which is an essential mineral during times of stress and helps you to feel more relaxed. It also contains manganese, zinc, calcium and potassium.
But now back to the butter and the paste – and why they get confused.
Cocoa butter is the edible, natural fat that makes up roughly half the content of dried cocoa beans. White or yellowish in colour, it has a wonderful rich flavour and is one of the key ingredients in the production of chocolate.
Its low melting point, somewhere between 32 and 35°C, accounts for its characteristically soft and creamy texture – an attribute that makes cocoa butter appealing for use in food and cosmetic products alike.
Typically, 100g of beans produce 40g of fat. Due to the extremely stable nature of cocoa butter, it is easy to store with little danger of rancidity. Picking of the fruit occurs year-round and is still done by hand today.
The pods are sliced down from the trees with machetes and are cracked open to allow the removal of the cocoa seeds. These are then placed in fermentation boxes for three to four days – a process that is essential for the chemical composition of the beans and the development of their renowned chocolate flavour. The seeds are then sun-dried on large trays or on the ground, losing much of their moisture and deepening to a reddish-brown colour. At this stage the beans are called raw cacao.
Peruvian cocoa butter is a delicious and healthier way to enjoy chocolate’s great taste without any unwanted sugars and additives. Largely made up of cholesterol-neutral fatty acids, it’s perfect eaten on its own or even mixed with our Peruvian powder and agave sweetener for homemade chocolate treats.
Try applying some onto your skin as a luxurious and nourishing moisturiser. Cocoa butter has been widely used to reduce or prevent stretch marks. There is no substantial clinical evidence that it really works but the butter provides deep hydration to keep our skin supple and moist, which in turn can prevent or reduce the appearance of stretch marks. It has been noted to help with sensitive skin problems such as irritations, eczema and dermatitis.
Cocoa paste is the natural product of ground nibs, which are drawn from the fruit of the Theobroma Cacao tree. Raw cacao paste (also called Cacao Liquor) is made by crushing raw cacao beans into a liquid. This liquid quickly solidifies at room temperature and the result is cacao paste.
Because no heat is used in this process, cacao paste retains its natural properties. Cacao paste is naturally about 55% cacao butter and is an extremely smooth product great for use in any chocolate recipe. If you are looking for true dark chocolate, this is it. Not 80% or 90%, but 100% pure organic cacao. No additives, sweeteners or anything else.
This product is essential for true cacao chefs who are looking for chocolate creations that are firm and silky at room temperature, or one-of-a-kind homemade healthy chocolate fudge.
Cocoa paste is a fantastic blank canvas, and invites you to be creative with its use. It’s great because you can cook with it whilst retaining all the original cocoa bean taste and smell. At home you can add small chunks to dried fruit and nuts to create your own trail mixes, or grate fine shavings over ice cream or sweet desserts.