The tools have changed, but the work of roasting and grinding fermented cacao beans, and mixing them with water to create a vitalizing food is a practice that goes back to early Mesoamerican civilizations. The Aztecs prepared chocolate by pouring the drink high up from one vessel to another, raising the foam of the beverage that was so prized for them.

For thousands of years, chocolate had been sipped, not eaten, since that Mexican Indian first turned cacao beans into “the food of the gods”.


“Food Of The Gods”

Cacao Tree With Mature Fruit
Cacao Tree With Ripe Fruit

Our story opens in Mexico and Central America, thousands of years before the Spanish Conquest.

The European invaders had to name the plants, all new to them, that they had “discovered”, and then struggle to fit them into schemes of classification and into the health theory of the time.

The face-off between the two worlds is illustrated by the scientific name of our tree: Theobroma Cacao, given to it in 1753 by Carl von Linné, the 18th-century Swedish scientist who invented the binomial system by which we now classify all living things.

The first part of this particular binomial, the name of the genus to which cacao (the “chocolate tree”) belongs, is a Latin term that means “food of the gods”.

Cacao Vs Cocoa

Cacao Pod With Fruit And Beans
Cacao Pod And Beans

COCOA is the English translation of the Spanish word CACAO.

The tree, the pod, the fruit, the seeds or beans, the nibs, the butter, the powder, the liquor or mass – all are the same, whether you call it COCOA or CACAO.

Some people use the terms interchangeably and that’s fine. I personally use CACAO most of the time as it comes naturally to me because Spanish is my mother language.

Most of you who are Anglophone might find it complicated to pronounce the word CACAO and it’s totally correct to use COCOA to refer to all things Cacao.

What’s In Cacao?

Cacao Pod, Beans, And Powder
Cacao Pod, Beans, and Chocolate Powder

Over half the weight of the cured, dried nib (as the shelled and degermed bean is called) is made up of fat, although the exact proportion fluctuates according to the variety of cacao and the growing conditions.

Cacao contains antioxidant flavonoid -quercetin-, known to have not only antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory activity.

Each cacao bean contains two alkaloids: Theobromine and caffeine; serotonin, and phenylethylamine are chocolate compounds that make it a tonic, and an anti-depressive and anti-stress agent, enhancing pleasurable activities.

It has very little caffeine: in a typical fine chocolate bar with at least 50 percent “cocoa solids,” and weighing 100 grams (3.5oz), there is no more of this alkaloid than in an average cup of American-style coffee.

It is true that cacao butter is mostly saturated fat, but this largely consists of stearic triglycerides, which have been shown to have no effect on blood cholesterol levels.

Theobromine, the other alkaloid in chocolate, is mood-enhancing, and is a known stimulant, vasolidator, and diuretic.