Did you know that money grows on trees? No kidding! It's not just a cynical retort used by misers. Ancient Aztecs used cacao beans as currency and even had a deity, Ek Chuah, who presided over both cacao and trade. These are the same beans from which today chocolate, in all its varieties, is made.
Aztecs considered cacao the food of the Gods, hence its scientific name theobroma cacao. As for the Maya, they believed that the Gods discovered the cacao plant in a sacred mountain where other food items were also found, and later the Feathered Serpent gave it to humankind to cultivate. There are numerous ancient tablets with medicinal, ceremonial and culinary references to it. It was also made into a powder that was smoked.
Cacao consumption has always been favored by the most refined, being enjoyed by both ancient Aztec kings and high-society Europeans during the 1800's. Today it's synonimous with Valentines' Day and is often used by lovers who wish to express their adoration.
The brain on cacao secretes the same chemicals and feel-good hormones that are produced when we make love, or when an athlete experiences the runner's high. Prominent among them is serotonin, the chemical of wellbeing. It also contains anandamide, which translates literally as the chemical of bliss, and so many minerals -many of which are often lacking in the standard American diet- that it's nature's own mineral supplement.
When eaten in its raw form, it has anti-depressant properties, increases pleasure and alleviates stress. There are very few foods this highly auspicious. It has been used successfully as a mood-booster by the authorities in London with youth leaving the club scene late at night, where it was proven to reduce the rates of violent crimes and unruly behavior.
Among the other health benefits, we find that it keeps the heart healthy, it's a brain food that supports memory and learning, relaxes the muscles and alleviates menstrual pain. This is why women naturally crave chocolate when pregnant or during menstruation. The human body has the wisdom to recognize that superfoods like cacao and maca help to regulate the hormonal system.
I should warn my readers that all these benefits are optimized when we consume cacao in its unprocessed form, the way nature intended. Most commercial chocolate not only has lost much of the nutritional value of cacao, but also has been adulterated with caffeine and processed sugars. In its raw form, cacao has more than twenty times the antioxidants that processed chocolate has, and has little to no caffeine.
Raw cacao can be used in powdered form on smoothies or drinks. My favorite one is what I call the 'raw cacao elixir', a very easy-to-make drink which uses very cold baby coconut water, cacao and maca powders, and a sweetener. Sometimes during the summer I also add crushed ice to make it even more refreshing.
All-natural homemade dairy-free chocolate ice cream can be made and served in two minutes by blending cacao powder, a sweetener and a couple of frozen bananas. Maca powder is optional and adds a malty flavor to it. There's a beautiful synergy between cacao and maca, as well as between cacao and coconut water.
Alternatively, if you don't have two minutes, just eating a handful of raw cacao nibs in the morning, sweetened with honey, agave nectar or stevia, is an easy way to keep the spirits high all day.