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Chocolate without the Guilt - Cacao

The latest craze to hit the health food industry is a newly discovered ‘superfood’ -- raw cacao beans. Because of its wide array of unique health giving properties, use of the raw bean, or parts of the raw bean (known as nibs), is spreading across the planet, and is now quite trendy. This is chocolate in its purest and rawest form, and it is causing a sensation.

High in antioxidants, those protective nutrients which absorb potentially harmful free radicals, and also in magnesium and sulphur, the raw cacao bean contains more than 300 identifiable chemical compounds, making it one of the most complicated foods known. Magnesium is one of the most widely deficient minerals in the usual western diet, so this could explain our craving for chocolate. Of interest to men in particular, is the constituent arginine -- widely touted as nature’s version of Viagra.

Raw cacao has an exquisite flavour. An increasing number of health food stores are now carrying cacao nibs, and cacao beans. They are less sweet than chocolate, and to many people, do have an acquired taste. There are many ways of using these healthful seeds at home, to add nutritional value to your family’s food. If you buy whole seeds, you can grind them in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Even a food processor will work well. The resulting powder can be added to smoothies -- they are particularly delicious when added to banana and coconut smoothies, adding just the right amount of chocolate flavour, but none of the cloying sweetness.

On a trip to Mexico several years ago, I was amazed to be served the famous dish of ‘chilli con carne’ by my Mexican hostess. It was smooth, creamy and absolutely the best chilli I had ever tasted. I begged her for her recipe. She finally told me that her grandmother had taught her to put a generous amount of ground cacao beans into the chilli while simmering. I was stunned, and not just a little sceptical. But upon returning home, I tried it. And she was right. The taste is improved dramatically, although the cacao nibs I brought from the local health shop were not as good as those used by my Mexican hostess.

Other ways to enjoy this healthful and delicious treat at home are to sprinkle the ground beans onto yogurt; this is particularly recommended with banana yogurt. The cacao bean seems to have a natural affinity with banana, and since in South America cacao trees are often grown under the shade of banana trees, maybe this should not be surprising. You can also try mixing the nibs with your favourite honey, and then just chewing. The flavour is sublime, and when enjoying this sweet treat, it is easy why chocolate is considered the food of the gods.

For ice cream lovers – try this. Buy a gallon of high quality vanilla ice cream. Make sure you get ‘soft scoop’ so it is easy to manipulate while still frozen. Scoop the ice cream out of its container, into the bowl of a food processor. Add a large quantity (to your taste) of the cacao nibs, and blend. Pile back into the original container and put back in the freezer. Voila! You now have the most healthful and authentic chocolate chip ice cream ever! Another chilled sweet to delight all chocolate lovers, is this? Blend together bananas, cacao nibs, honey, coconut cream, cashew nuts and sultanas in the processor. Adjust the ingredients and the degree of crunch to your taste. Pack into a shallow plastic container and freeze. After an hour, take it out and cut into portions. Then replace in the freezer. Later -- enjoy that sumptuous genuine chocolate taste, but without any of the guilt. Sensational!

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