What is Cacao?
The fruit, called a cacao pod, is ovoid, wide, ripening yellow to orange, and weighs about 500 g when ripe comes from Cacao tree which is a small evergreen tree in the family of Malvaceae. The pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, usually called “beans”, embedded in a white pulp.
The leaves are alternate, entire, unlobed, long and broad.The flowers are produced in clusters directly on the trunk and older branches; this is known as cauliflory. The flowers are small with pink calyx. The seeds are the main ingredient of chocolate, while the pulp is used in some countries to prepare refreshing juice, smoothies, jelly, and nata. The seeds are the most valuable part of the plant as they provide the source material for what eventually is to become chocolate. Mature trees start to produce fruit after about five years. They can live for over 200 years, though commercially they are considered productive for only about twenty-five years. Its seeds, cocoa beans, are used to make cocoa mass, cocoa powder, confectionery, ganache and chocolate.
Health Benefits of Cacao
Bronchial Asthma: Cocoa beans contain xanthine and theophylline, which aid in relaxing bronchial spasms and opening constricted bronchial tubes. This facilitates an easy flow of air and is valuable in curing various allergies, including asthma and shortness of breath. Its consumption therefore helps in providing relief from bronchial asthma.
Narrowing of blood vessels that causes poor blood flow to the limbs (peripheral arterial disease): Early research shows that drinking a cocoa beverage rich in certain chemicals called flavanols for 6 months can increase walking distance in people with this condition.
Blood pressure: Flavonoid-rich cocoa aids in lowering blood pressure and improving the elasticity of blood vessels. The presence of antioxidants in cocoa that stimulates the production of nitric oxide, which helps to keep blood vessels relaxed. Furthermore, this helps in maintaining a healthy circulatory system.
Stroke: People who eat more chocolate seems to have a reduced risk of stroke compared to those who eat less chocolate.
Prevent premature aging: Polyphenol antioxidants found in cacao belong to the same group of antioxidants as green tea and red wine. These anthocyanins (found in dark colored fruits) and catechins (found in green tea) protect our cells from premature oxidation or destruction and can keep us looking and feeling younger longer.
Mood Enhancer: Consuming cocoa has shown antidepressant-like effects on certain physiological processes. cocoa flavonols help to enhance mood, combat depression, and promote improved cognitive activities during persistent mental exertion. The presence of the neurochemical phenylethylamine in it also helps in enhancing feelings of contentment and promoting aphrodisiac effects.
Insect repellant: Early research shows that applying cocoa oil to the skin reduces black fly insect bites.
Obesity: Early research shows that following a reduced-calorie diet, eating two squares of dark chocolate, and drinking a sugar-free cocoa beverage daily for 18 weeks does not increase weight loss in overweight or obese individuals.
Parkinson disease: Early research shows that eating 200 mg of dark chocolate does not improve movement in people with Parkinson disease.
Protect your skin against the sun: The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration The minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause redness in the skin, 24 hours after exposure.
Uses of Cacao
Cacao butter produced from cacao is used by the pharmaceutical industry, though some herb shops and pharmacies still supply Cacao seed shells, sold as a diuretic tea.
Cacao’s main use is as a source material for Cocoa powder and Chocolate
Cacao butter is heavily used in the cosmetic