Raw Chocolate: 5 Myths and Truths
Although cacao has been safely consumed by humans for thousands of years, there is still some apprehension among some chocolate lovers when it comes to eating raw (unroasted) cacao and chocolate. We've decided to break down 5 of the most common myths or misconceptions surrounding unroasted chocolate to address any doubts or fears.
THE MYTH: THERE ARE NO INTERNATIONAL GUIDELINES DEFINING "RAW" CHOCOLATE
THE TRUTH: There is still no independent, third-party organization that standardizes the temperature limit in order for food to be considered raw. Generally, a food is considered raw if it is not industrially processed in any way (ex. being refined, homogenized, pasteurized, treated with pesticides or additives) and has never been heated over 40–48°C. Simple processes are allowed such as sprouting, juicing and fermenting but the ingredients must always be cooked at very low temperatures. There is still some debate in the community as to the exact threshold but 42°C is one of the most commonly seen numbers. At Cachao, we believe in producing raw chocolate not only for the health benefits that come with conserving the natural properties of whole foods, but also because in doing so we are able to achieve a more intense and complex flavour with a lingering aftertaste.
THE MYTH: RAW CACAO IS UNSAFE FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION
THE TRUTH: The main concern with raw chocolate tends to relate to the sanitation process after the cacao beans have been cultivated, which foregoes roasting them at high temperatures. Instead, raw cacao undergoes a process where the beans are left to ferment in their pulp and are washed and left under the sun to dry over a period of several days. Before being packed and shipped to buyers, the cacao undergoes batch testing to ensure no harmful bacteria or pathogens are present. Some people fear that the cacao beans will become contaminated with bacteria at the source and that the sanitation processes in place are not adequate to free it from pathogens. In reality, this is a risk that is present with all types of foods, both raw and cooked/highly processed. If we just look at the numbers, raw fruits and vegetables have many more incidents of pathogenic contamination than raw cacao products with no deaths or serious illness ever being recorded resulting from consuming raw cacao products.
THE MYTH: COCOA AND CACAO ARE THE SAME THING
THE TRUTH: These two terms are often confused because in English the words cacao and cocoa are both used to describe the same plant. However in the world of confectionary, "cocoa" is generally used to refer to a roasted/more processed product while "cacao" products are more natural and typically unroasted, although there are no established guidelines dictating how the words should be applied with respect to a finished product. Most commercially available chocolates are made from cacao by-products mixed with emulsifying agents to make large scale production more economical; the most common of these is called cocoa mass or cocoa liquor. Bean to bar and raw chocolate products involve a much longer process and do not include employ the use of additives, preservatives or any other artificial flavouring or thickening agents. These types of products favour the word cacao over cocoa to indicate that the final product less removed from its original source/primary ingredient.
THE MYTH: RAW CHOCOLATE IS JUST ANOTHER PASSING WELLNESS/FOODIE TREND
THE TRUTH: The Spanish were the first Europeans to bring cacao from the New World to the Old World where it quickly became a popular food enjoyed by the upper classes in Western and Northern Europe. Nowadays, chocolate has become a staple in most corners of the world where it can be bought anywhere from gas stations in remote villages to boutique artisan shops on a city high street. Over the past 10-15 years there has been a renewed interest in raw (unroasted) chocolate which has coincided with the global shift towards healthier lifestyles and diets. More and more people have become interested in consuming organic, minimally processed foods and tapping into ancient wisdom via traditional healing and spirituality practices. Vegetarianism is on the rise and every year more research is published demonstrating the importance of gut health with regards to mood, chronic illness, and overall wellness. While this global shift in consciousness has given rise to a large number of new wellness trends, the ones with poor scientific backing are usually quick to die off in a matter of years or never amount to more than a few thousand participants. Raw chocolate is often mistakenly considered to be a subset of the raw foodism craze which has been in practice for centuries but became mainstream in the 1980's. In reality, most producers and consumers of raw chocolate do not observe a raw food diet and their reasons for producing/consuming raw chocolate are more representative of the global shift towards a healthier way of life rooted in more traditional methods. The realization that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication is the main driving force behind the raw chocolate movement and the main reason so many experienced chocolatiers have decided to work with unroasted cacao. Every year there are new raw chocolate brands debuting in countries all around the world with several of the top artisan chocolate brands in the world being raw chocolates. In summation- raw chocolate is a trend that is here to stay.
THE MYTH: THE BENEFITS OF RAW CHOCOLATE ARE OVERSTATED
THE TRUTH: There is evidence demonstrating human consumption of cacao from as early as 460 AD with some accounts even showing evidence dating to over 1000 years prior to this date. It's use in ancient mesoamerican tribal cultures is well documented and is still observed through to this day with many farmers continuing to use the same techniques as their ancestors to grow, cultivate and consume cacao beans. Historically, therapeutic uses of cacao included balancing the nervous system, improving digestion and restoring overall health with current scientific literature providing considerable evidence that cacao reduces risk of cardiovascular disease via several different mechanisms. The anti-inflammatory effects of the polyphenols found in cacao have been seen to cause cardiovascular alterations and the many antioxidants found in cacao are thought to directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce risk for diabetes. Cacao contains more phenolic antioxidants than most foods and by never exposing the cacao to high temperatures or highly processed ingredients, the majority of these natural qualities can remain in-tact. Aside from the many physiological effects that raw cacao can produce in the human body, theobromine (the active element in cacao) creates an increase in alertness and focus which in large quantities can become overwhelming to the consumer. For this reason raw cacao has and continues to be integrated into spiritual practices based on meditation and/or movement.