What is cacao? Well, any chocolate lover can probably tell you that cacao is the main ingredient of this sweet, melting food of love. And in fact, it also holds the key to the benefits of dark chocolate. But do you know the origins of cacao or, for that matter, what makes this ingredient one of the most compelling in the world?
What is cacao? – where do cocoa beans come from?
Cacao is a tree native to tropical climates. (You may have noticed an origin stamped out the outside of a chocolate bar with the name of an exotic location like Ghana, Ecuador or the Ivory Coast.) It’s the seed of this tree, sometimes called a cacao pod or even a cocoa bean, from which chocolate is made.
This seed is considered one of the most powerfully nutritious (and mysterious) superfoods on the planet. Once you start to examine the nutritional makeup of cacao, it’s easy to see why dark chocolate is touted for many health benefits, including a reputation as an aphrodisiac.
Theobromine – a key to the benefits of dark chocolate
To understand the benefits of dark chocolate, we need to first get to know Theobromine. Theobroma cacao is the name given to the seed of cacao trees. And the main active alkaloid found within these seeds is theobromine, which is thought to be pretty powerful, nutritionally. In fact, the compound’s characteristics include the ability to energize and heal our bodies.
History’s biggest proponents of theobroma cacao were probably the Aztecs. They revered cacao’s theobromine as a substance worthy of the gods. They indulged in these dark, exotic seeds to prepare physically and spiritually for battles as well as for love. It is well known that Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, drank many goblets–some historians say as many as 50 cups daily–of a cacao-infused beverage to be at his most virile when walking into his harem.
Is theobromine a stimulant like caffeine?
Theobromine itself is considered a stimulant. Its effect is caffeine-like. Although it does not have caffeine, it causes stimulation in the heart and nervous system that’s similar to caffeine. (This is actually the reason dogs shouldn’t have chocolate. The stimulating effects can cause a serious healthy risk to their systems.)
Chocolate is believed to contain caffeine. However there is recent speculation that the caffeine-like effects of chocolate may come strictly from its theobromine and phenylethylamine, a natural amphetamine linked with romance.
In fact, it is the combination of these two ingredients that many experts say produces an aphrodisiac effect. Theobromine stimulates the nervous and cardiac systems and phenylethylamine acts as an antidepressant.
Theobromine can improve your sex life
Here’s how we know that cacao has the power to give your sex life a boost:
To test the alkaloid, it was orally fed to rats to prove the effects on the sexual organs. A study completed in 1992 demonstrated that pure theobromine caused greater sperm count and testicular swelling.
But, once it’s mixed with cacao extract (to more closely resemble chocolate), it doesn’t have the strength to produce the same type of growth. Although the test did show that the chocolate-like mixture produced irregularities in high doses, whether or not the theobromine was in fact producing healthy sperm count was not mentioned.
Additional benefits of cacao
Theobroma cacao may have given the Aztecs their strength to raise an empire. But theobromine without the cacao can’t. It doesn’t produce aphrodisiac effects without the other elements of cacao. The polyphenols of cacao act as antioxidants which protect the body’s health. They protect against free radicals. In fact, their antioxidant effects are actually similar to the health benefits of much-touted Oolong and green teas.
Why you should choose dark chocolate
Processing cacao to make chocolate requires the addition of ingredients like sugar. Unfortunately, diluting the cacao with things like sugar and dairy dilute its potency. That being said, darker chocolate contains higher amount of theobromine and polyphenols than milk chocolate. And, of course, cocoa benefits might be the best of all. So when choosing chocolate, the rule is the darker the better and cocoa powder or even cacao nibs trump the benefits of chocolate every time.
Cacao nib benefits
Of course, the dark chocolate we eat today doesn’t have the strength of Montezuma’s virility drink. Like I said, for the greatest potency, you might want to look to cacao nibs benefits. If you’ve never tried cacao nibs, these crumbled bits of dried cacao pods make a delicious snack or topping for baked goods or even savory foods.
But the benefits of dark chocolate like what’s available now includes an impressive list nutrients. Studies show that, although it may not give you the prowess of an Aztec ruler, dark chocolate promotes relaxation, better circulation and strengthens the nervous system. Health food never tasted so delicious!
A great dark chocolate recipe
If, at this point, your mouth is watering for chocolate, we have just the thing! Best of all, this recipe, because it uses both dark chocolate and cocoa powder, takes full advantage of the benefits of dark chocolate. Try making these Hand-Rolled Dark Chocolate Truffles for a truly indulgent dark chocolate fix. It’s a four-ingredient recipe and it’s packed with all the nutrients your body is craving.
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