Theobroma Cacao Tree

Chocolate is best known for being and indulgent confection, but historically, chocolate has been consumed for it’s many purported health benefits, or at least a certain kind of “chocolate”. What we call modern day chocolate is not the kind of “chocolate” that is referenced as harnessing health benefits, but rather, an important ingredient that is the essential primary component of what we know to be the chocolate of today. 

The Theobroma Cacao Tree or Cacao tree is a small evergreen tree in the family Malvaceae. The tree can grow to be 13 to 26 feet tall and produces yellow, red or purple pods containing seeds popularly known as beans, and which are the main source ingredient for chocolate. 

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The consumption and utilization of Cacao beans from the Theobroma tree has long been well recorded, estimating it’s usage as far back as 250 A.D. where it is believed it was first cultivated by the ancient civilizations of the Mayans and the Aztecs in the Mesoamerican regions, and which was then introduced to the Spanish Royal Court.    

Cacao or Cocoa?

Cacao or Cocoa? What are these two? How are they different or is there any difference whatsoever? There is a common misconception that cacao and cocoa are the same kind of thing. Although very close to being the same, cacao and cocoa are quite different. While they both originate from the same Theobroma tree, they end up being different end products as they go through different processes before being marketed and consumed. Chocolate in all of it’s forms originates from the Theobroma Cacao tree and Cacao beans. When fresh, cacao beans are wet and covered in a sweet slimey fruit flesh. Once harvested, these seeds or beans are left to dry and germinate as a fermentation processes occurs on both in and out the bean. It’s a this stage where some would say cacao and cocoa begin to differ. Both start out as beans from the cacao tree, but in the making of cocoa, the beans both are both fermented and roasted at high temperatures and typically supplemented with additives to cut the bitterness.

Cacao extract is considered to be a more vegan friendly and more nutritious alternative to milk chocolate or cocoa for that matter. The excitement that arises about all of the health benefits that chocolate has to offer is understandable, but do keep on mind that the vast majority of studies exploring links between chocolate and health benefits are not dealing with chocolates such as Hershey’s chocolates. These studies are focused on Cacao beans themselves, either in raw or minimally processed form. 

Cacao powder is made from fermented cacao beans that have not gone through the process of being heated. The misconception of cocoa as cacao and vice versa truly is an innocent mistake, being that their names play such word play. 

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Benefits of Cacao

When in comes to anti- oxidants, Cacao is mostly rich in polyphenols. These polyphenols include anthocyanins, isoflavones, flavanones, flavanols, catechins, epicatechins and proanthocyanidins.  Worldwide, cacao and it’s products are consumed mainly because of it’s anti- oxidant and ant- radical capabilities. Many studies have noted cocoa phenolics as being important bioactive compounds, greatly prominent for their metabolic and cardiovascular effects. The anti- oxidant and anti- radical effects seen from these phenolic compounds have shown to increases the plasma level of anti- oxidants to prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, or the so called “bad cholesterol”. Additionally, polyphenols have shown to inhibit platelets from clumping together, a process from which aggregation can lead to conditions such as atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. Platelets are small fragments of blood cells that when activated, are a part of a cascading response that allows them to react to an injury. Platelets could be seen as one of the bodies emergency responses to damage and injury. For example, when a cut occurs, the body sends out a distress signal, where platelets are among the many specialized fragments which flock to the site. In people with a low platelet count, it can be difficult to control bleeding due to not enough platelets able to activate. On the other end, a high platelet count can lead to increased clotting, which can become problematic when platelet activation occurs. 

Cacao is believed to be a great natural mood enhancer. Raw cacao contains important natural mood lifting “bliss” chemicals. These include chemicals like tyrosine, phenylethylamine, anandamide, and Theobromine. Tyrosine is a precursor to dopamine, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of reward and motivation. Phenylethylamine is an adrenal related chemical that occurs when you feel excited or in love. Anandamide , otherwise known as the “bliss” molecule, helps support a state of bliss and plays a role in maintaining the homeostasis of endocrine organs.  Theobromine has shown to positively effect  mood and energy levels, as well as greatly supporting cognitive function. 

The polyphenolic content in cacao have been shown to affect numerous intracellular signaling cascades that influence the cardiovascular system by enhancing vascular function and decreasing platelet reactivity. Cacao powder and dark chocolate may favorably affect cardiovascular disease risk factors by reducing LDL oxidation susceptibility, and by enhancing serum total antioxidant capacity  and HDL concentrations, while improving endothelial function.   

There are over 700 compounds that have been identified in cacao. Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Copper, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, vitamin E, B1, B2, B3, B5, and B9 are a few nutritional compounds found in Cacao beans.  Of particular interest to scientists are the antioxidant compounds such as it’s polyphenol content. Anti- oxidant are compounds that plants synthesize which provides longevity to their own cells, preventing them  from decaying prematurely, due to factors such as the exposure to heat, air and moisture. In the human body many of these anti- oxidants prevent reactive oxygen species from destroying cells by way of disease or from premature aging. There are various natural elements that contain polyphenol compounds, yet of all foods known, cacao beans are known to have some of the highest if not the highest antioxidant polyphenol content known.

Secrets Of The Tribe

Fly KAKAO was founded in 2016 by Makenzie Marzluff, with the mission to bring true ceremonial cacao to the world for healing, development, inspiration, general health and for a greater connection with a powerhouse of nature. More than that, this non-profit, fair trade practicing company supports and gives back to ethical cacao farmers, who have kept their heritage and traditions of cacao alive since time immemorial.  Fly KAKAO and its members have dedicated their efforts to assisting local farmers and communities in Guatemala and Peru that are the ones responsible for the cultivation and protection of native cacao strains.

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