*The cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao, of the family Malvaceae, is native to the Central and South America.
*Cocoa is the dry, partially fermented powder obtained from the seeds after the cocoa butter has been pressed and removed.
*The fruits of this tree, also called pods, have 20-40 seeds or beans embedded in the sweet white pulp of the fruit. These seeds have a strong shell around them.
*Cocoa beans have a strong bitter taste. These beans are allowed to ferment in the pulp of their fruits for several days through a process called ‘sweating’, when the chocolate flavor is developed.
*These beans are then cleaned, dried, roasted and the shell removed to produce the cacao nibs rich in saturated fats.
*These nibs are then ground, when the fat (called cocoa butter) in the seeds melts and produces a liquid chocolate called chocolate liquor. This is pure liquid bitter chocolate.
*This chocolate liquor is then – solidified and sold as baking chocolate (unsweetened), the saturated fats removed as cocoa butter, and finally the remaining solids are powdered and sold as cocoa powder.
*Dutch processed cocoa powder is chemically treated with an alkaline substance like potassium carbonate. Processing with an alkaline substance removes the natural acidity of the cocoa bean and gives the cocoa powder a more darker and redder color than its natural counterpart, and a richer, smoother and milder flavor and taste.
*This type of cocoa powder is used in baking and gives the baked products a rich dark brown color.
*Cocoa is a good source of antioxidants, flavonoids, theobromine and an essential amino acid tryptophan, but the Dutch processed one is low in these phytonutrients and has less benefits than the natural cocoa and dark chocolate.
*Buying and storage: Buy good quality cocoa powder in small amounts required. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place.
Is it raw?
No, Dutch processed cocoa powder is chemically processed with an alkaline substance to neutralize the acidity. Make sure you read the label. This type of cocoa powder generally says Dutch processed or alkalized on the box.
1. Cocoa has high amounts of antioxidants and flavonoids.
2. Antioxidants scavenge the free radicals, preserve the integrity of cell membranes and reduce the risk of heart diseases, inflammatory and degenerative diseases.
3. The beneficial cardiovascular effects are lowering the LDL cholesterol level in the blood, reducing the risk of heart attack and atherosclerosis, and promoting a healthy heart.
4. It can also lower and maintain the blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of hypertension, due to the flavonoids in unsweetened chocolate having a vasodilating effect.
5. The flavonoids, epicatechin and gallic acid, have anti-carcinogenic properties, which are still being studied.
6. Research indicated that theobromine, the alkaloid present in cocoa, may be effective in preventing persistent coughing, soothing and moistening the throat. It is shown to be more effective than codeine, the component in many cough medicines.
7. Good source of Tryptophan, an essential amino acid present, which is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the modulation of anger, mood, sleep, sexuality, appetite, etc. This amino acid, relaxes the mood, improves the quality of sleep and appetite.
8. Good source of Phenethylamine, an alkaloid, which acts as a stimulant and is sometimes described as a ‘love chemical’.
9. Moderate source of B-group vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6 and folic acid that are essential to enhance the energy production from the foods.
10. Very good source of magnesium that helps in relieving fatigue, relaxing the muscles, nerves and blood vessels, thus relieving the symptoms of asthma, migraine headaches, tension and soreness in muscles etc.
11. Very good source of potassium, this along with low amount of sodium helps to maintain blood pressure, reduces water retention, helps transmit nerve impulses to muscles, and improves muscle contraction.
12. Good source of other minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc and manganese, which play a very important role in maintaining normal metabolic activities of the body.
13. Cocoa also has good amounts of protein and dietary fiber.
14. Dietary fiber adds roughage to the contents of the intestines, promotes satiety, promotes the health of the colon, and also helps in relieving constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticular disorders, etc. It also reduces the risk for colon cancer.
15. Though cocoa has many useful antioxidants and flavonoids in them, regular consumption in large quantities may result in weight gain. As with all other foods, moderation is the key. Also processed cocoa powder may not have as many benefits as the phytonutrients are destroyed to some extent during the processing.