Cacao Explorations

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The Drink of the Gods has been my drink of choice for the past few years. Cocoa was reserved for Kings and Warriors in ancient South America after Quetzalcóatl gave it to The People. In a story rather similar in theme to that of Prometheus giving fire to mankind, the ancient Mayans received knowledge of how to prepare the fruits of the Theobroma cacao tree as the bitter, stimulating drink we know today as chocolate.

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Chocolate comes from these orange pods on the Theobroma cacao tree.

Cocoa nibs, the hearts of the cocoa beans, are filled with nutrients that support heart health, aid in digestion, and promote peace of mind. To get to all those healthful properties, you’ve got to cut open the pods, remove the beans, and ferment them. Then, you’ve got to crack open all those beans, which are pretty close in size and shape to roasted coffee beans, and scoop out the hearts, which are called nibs. Roast the nibs, then peel and grind them into a powder if you want the cocoa experience. For chocolate, you’ll roast, winnow, grind, refine, and conch them.

All in all, it’s a surprising amount of work to turn the fruits of the Theobroma cacao tree into the chocolate our ancestors drank. They didn’t even add sugar or milk. Me…I add a bit of sugar and soymilk. My tastes are decidedly plebeian in that respect. We have the European royals and wealthy classes of just a couple hundred years ago to thank for making our chocolate sweet and milky, and the chocolate makers of the industrialized age for making cocoa and chocolate cheap, plentiful food. I truly am grateful.

As my birthday for this splendid year approaches, I’m looking for a good, fair-trade source for a pound or two of raw cocoa nibs. I think it’s high time I connected with the magic of the Theobroma cacao tree as closely as my North American home allows, and maybe get a little taste of cocoa as it was meant to be, pure, organic, and lightly roasted.

If you’re looking for some delicious chocolate and cocoa recipes, search Cocoa on The Practical Herbalist.

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