Theobroma cacao is the small evergreen tree which produces cocoa beans, from which, of course, we manufacture chocolate. However, cacao nibs – the raw, un-roasted meat from the cocoa beans – are exceptionally nutritious, and are considered by many to be a superfood.
The cultivation and consumption of cacao dates back thousands of years. We know, for example, that the Olmec, Maya and Aztec civilisations all used cacao extensively.
Cacao nibs are rich in phytonutrients. Much of their beneficial effect comes from epicatechin, a flavonol found in cacao which is a powerful antioxidant, helping to fight off damage from free radicals. Raw cacao is also packed with sulphur, magnesium and phenylethylamine.
Magnesium is essential for muscle and nerve function, and for a steady heartbeat. Phenylethylamine provides increased focus and concentration, while sulphur is essential for cell communication and for healthy skin, hair and nails.
Anandamide, also known as the bliss chemical, is found in raw cacao, and is thought to be responsible for the mood enhancing effects of this superfood. Cacao is also an excellent source of iron, essential for healthy red blood cells and the transportation of oxygen around the body. Cacao also increases the bioavailability of nitric oxide, which can help to lower blood pressure.