That’s right, there are parts of the cacao beans that have a strong antibacterial effect and, after numerous studies, the benefits of the cocoa beans have been proven. So, do not be surprised if you see cacao in the ingredients of your toothpaste some day. Naturally, this does not mean that you should start eating chocolate all the time. The added sugar has the exact opposite effect. Hence, eat it with a measure, though our addiction to it is not accidental and has its scientific explanation – the caffeine contained in the cacao is a well-known stimulant without which most of us would not even be able to start our day. It contains also theobromine, another stimulant of the nervous system, and the compound phenylethylamine releases endrophins and increases the production of dopamine, both responsible for the sensations of pleasure and happiness.
Maybe we should start with the difference between the cocoa and the cacao. In Bulgarian we do not have two separate words, but “cacao” is the seed in the pods, while “cocoa” is the cheaper cocoa powder obtained after extracting the fat from the cocoa mass. The pod, containing 20 to 50 grains, grows directly from the cacao tree trunk, which grow in an area at 20-degrees latitude to the North and South of the Equator. Even before the Mayans and Aztecs, the Olmecs consumed the beans by crushing and mixing them with water, herbs and spices. The Olmects are the ancient and mysterious civilization that flourished more than 3000 years ago in the humid lowlands of the Gulf of Mexico. They left to the future generations the huge stone heads with negroid features that attract archaeologists and tourists from all over the world. When the Spanish conquistadors invaded Mexico in 1519, the Aztecs were drinking a hot cacao drink they called Xocolatl (literally – bitter water) in the Nahuatl language. Montezuma, the supreme Aztec leader at the time, described it as “a divine drink that increases endurance and overcomes fatigue. A cup of this precious liquid allows you to walk all day without eating. ”
Although Columbus imported the cacao to Spain on his fourth return from America, it was General Hernan Cortes who actually promoted it among the Spanish aristocracy. However, they did not like the otherwise unpleasant bitter drink until they added sugar to it. Thus, Spain began growing cacao in its colonies, but kept it a secret until the Spanish Princess Maria Theresa gave it in 1615 as a wedding gift to her future husband Louis XIV, the Sun King. From that point on, the fame of the cacao grew across Europe. In England, for example, chocolate bars have been known since 1830, but until 1847, when the company Fry`s created the first chocolate for the general public, it was meant only for royalty. It is not fair, but it is understandable.
From its native Central America, the cacao was transferred by the Spanish to West Africa, where, until the present, are located the largest plantations – in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Outside of Africa, the cacao is also cultivated in Indonesia, Brazil and Ecuador. The Ivory Coast is responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s cacao production, followed by Ghana with 17% and Indonesia with 13%. And here comes the dark side of the divine cacao. The farmers who grow it are, as a rule, small family businesses whose income depends solely on their farm and the purchase price of the beans. In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, they make between $ 0.50 and $ 0.84 per day, which places them well below the $ 1.90 absolute poverty line accepted by the World Bank. Large chocolate producers are buying the raw materials at low prices and are constantly demanding even lower prices, thereby effectively encouraging the exploitation of child labor in the plantations in Africa. Unable to hire adult workers because of low wages, the farmers are forced to use children between the ages of 7 and 14, for the unbearably hard work and even without paying them. There is evidence of child-slavery trafficking since 1998. In 2000, the BBC aired a documentary that drew the public’s attention to the growing problem. The result is the Fair Trade movement, which requires for the large buyers to pay producers fairly to ensure that they do not use child labor. Unfortunately, this is not producing significant results – according to a 2016 study published by Fortune Magazine, over 2.1 million children are still enslaved in cocoa plantations in West Africa.
It is not my intention to turn this article into a social drama, however, next time you buy chocolate, look at the packaging. Get one with the Fair Trade or UTZ brands. Perhaps if we, the consumers, stop buying from the non-fair trade ones, we will force the manufacturing companies to take responsibility.
And now, without upsetting you further, let’s start on today’s cake. The recipe and photo are credited to Emily McLaughlin, published by Boston Magazine.
Avocado Chocolate Mousse
– 1 large ripe avocado
– 1/4 cup raw cocoa powder
– 1/4 cup melted coconut butter
– 2 tbsp honey or maple syrup
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– optional topping, if you wish: fresh berries, toasted almonds, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, raw cacao nibs
Grab your blender or food processor. Don’t have one? You can attempt this with a hand mixer, or muscle it with a fork. Blend or process the avocado first, then add the raw cacao powder (or cocoa powder) and the rest of the ingredients. Blend, whisk, or mash until creamy. The mixture should reach a pudding-like consistency.
Chill before serving, and top with berries, nuts, coconut, or more chocolate if you’d like. Store in the fridge for up to two days.
I do not know about you, but to me this recipe reads so easy, besides I have the right type of avocado. Here I go!