I was 20 years old when I went to my first raw-food picnic. I instantly felt like I’d found what I’d been searching for, surrounded by lively, energetic souls and high on my first taste of raw cacao. Theobroma cacao. The food of the gods. The healthiest food on the planet I was led to believe. I ate more chocolate at that picnic than I ever had in one day, and felt like I could accomplish anything in that moment, bonding with strangers over the magic of chocolate, planning out my future over a cacao shake and dancing on the energy of cacao-super food cake. I crashed out that night feeling so wired but elated that I’d found a tribe of people who were on the same journey of health as me. I stayed awake until the early hours, my mind unable to switch off and my body tossing and turning, unable to rest. It was a new sensation for me, and one I associated with feeling alive, in tune and awakened. Never having been a coffee drinker or user of stimulants before, I wasn’t prepared for the crash that came after the high, and I was fully in the swing of making my own raw cacao concoctions by this point. My days were fuelled by cacao bean, I created cacao recipes in the hours I should have been asleep and lived with varying degrees of anxiety for many years after.
As my raw food journey continued, I began to look more deeply into the properties of raw cacao. Every where I looked, all I was told was that raw cacao was on the top of the antioxident scale, full of magnesium and would enhance my physical and mental well being. And so I continued, living with anxiety, insomnia and restlessness because I was told it was a healing food. How could a food classed by so many as medicine, as an essential part of a high-vibe, high-raw diet be causing my body harm? I continued to eat raw cacao with varying effects for the next 8 years, well aware of its effect on my well being but unable to question it’s factuality. I’d been sold into it’s magic and was by that point, hooked. I never questioned paying top dollar for a bag of the brown stuff, or consider substituting some quality cocoa powder I could buy in my local shop. To me, raw cacao was unparalleled and the negative effects I experienced couldn’t out way the benefits my mind had been tricked into believing.
Fast forward 10 years, and I’m now happily a family woman living with my beloved man, toddler and newborn baby girl. I haven’t felt the urge to label myself by what I eat for many years, or find my highs from a sweet, dark snack. I’m fully settled in family life, nourishing and nurturing my family through real, whole foods which we try and gather as much of ourselves as possible. Now the strangest this happens when I am pregnant, which I have mentioned before. I go completely off chocolate. For the first 4 or 5 months I can’t stand even the smell of it, let alone let it pass my lips, by complete inner instinct. After the half way stage I am able (and want) to have it in my life again, but only in small amounts. My body just can’t handle the buzziness of it with a bubba inside me, and when I do, she feels like it’s having a rave in my belly. Earlier this year, I was preparing for a desserts workshop and began making a stock of raw chocolates for my participants to enjoy. After nibbling on the remnants of some dark, high cacao content chocolates, I instantly felt that familiar feeling come over me. For the next hour I bounced from one project to the next, unable to focus on one thing for much longer than a few minutes before buzzing to the next. My mind was racing, taste buds salivating and my body was feeling edgy, tight and unable to rest. I’d experienced this feeling so many times before but after my long periods without any cacao passing my lips, the effects felt much stronger and my inner-mama-body knowledge told me that it was no longer a good feeling. Anxiety didn’t make me a good mother and my softer, slower body didn’t thrive on this kind of stimulation. I lay awake that night while my baby slept, wondering why I’d let myself be sold into something which made me feel this way, when everything else I did for myself was about feeling the best I could, in a rounded, holistic way. I set about looking beyond the hype and marketing of cacao and deeper feeling into my own bodies reaction to it. Could the food of the gods have been detrimenting my own health all this time?
What I have concluded from my own inner teachings and outer research is this. What ever you eat, drink and do is meant to make you feel good. On a simple level, food satisfies our hunger, provides us with essential nutrients and keeps our organs healthy. It also effects our mood, expresses creativity, and reflects our daily budget. Alot of so-called super-foods are hyped up by people in the market to make money, when really, the true super foods are the ones growing for free outside your door. Wild nettles. Berries. Seasonal fruits. Local herbs. I’m not denying that I have a shelf full of dried, exotic foods in my pantry for when I’m feeling fancy and when fresh food is scarce here (like for the past four months!) or that I enjoy chocolate on regular occasions, but I’m no longer going to be sold into paying twice as much for a product which makes me feel less than awesome. The same can be said for any food, not just chocolate. I’ve eaten things before which have left me feeling under-par, simply because every health-site says it’s the best food on the planet. For who? Every single person? Not really. Health is individual and needs be felt from within, not prescribed by what trends and dollars are being made.
I guess my point is that something which is deemed a miricle food by health manufacturers should be thouroughly tested by yours truly before you decide that it will change your life for the better. If a similar food which costs a fraction of the price gives you the same or better results and happiness, then I’m all for going with the later option. And if raw cacao makes you feel awesome, then great! But if, like me, it leaves you with the jittery-jitters then maybe let good ol’ roasted cocoa a chance again. Your bank balance equally may thank you for it! Now without getting all sciencey on you and bombarding you with studies, here’s just a few bits I pulled from some reliable sources on the web…
- Raw cacao beans often contain visible molds which I personally have seen on many brands. Roasting cocoa beans will destroy any molds formed during the fermentation process.
- The ORAC scale often used to score foods in order of their antioxident content is often “routinely misused by food and supplement manufacturing companies to promote their products and by consumers to guide their food and dietary supplement choices”. Touche, USDA
- Roasting could infact increase the flavanols catechin and epicatechin (antioxidents), although dutch processing cocoa powder does decrease the nutrition, so stick to good natural products. See study here.
- Raw cacao is often fermented for a short amount of time (1-2 days) whereas this study shows that a longer fermentation (often carried out by cocoa producers supplying to roast) decreases the mineral-binding anti-nutrients hydrocyanate, oxalate and theobromine which in turn helps increase the absorption of magnesium.
After alot of research, I now choose to spend my money on ethically produced roasted cocoa powder, which I buy here. There is alot of horribly produced cocoa (and cacao) out there, so it really pays to do your research before you buy. Cacao farms are renowned for employing child labour and paying their workers dreadful wages, as well as using harmful chemicals on non organic farms. On a lighter note, cacao thrives in rain-forest conditions, and thrive in climates with high humidity and rainfall. Because cacao trees grow well in the shade, the rain-forest does not need to be cut down in order to grow cocoa. Yes!
I’d love top hear your thoughts on this as I know so many people claim to feel amazing from eating raw cacao. Maybe I’m one of the sensitive ones! Lets discuss and spill the beans on cacao/cocoa. Who is in the raw cacao camp and who’s all for roasted cocoa? I know which one feels best for me. Tell me your thoughts below. But for now, I’m enjoying these buckwheat crackle cakes. No cacao-cracko in these. Just rich, satisfying, cocoa/carob comfort. Read on for the recipe!
I made these for Ferns birthday party a couple of months back in an attempt to recreate something I remembered from my own childhood birthday parties. The chocolate rice-crispy cake. How can you resisit the combination of boxed cereal and chocolate at 4 years old?! I make these buckwhweat crispies for Fern and she is completely obsessed with them. Like she would eat them sprinkled on everything if she could, and loves eating them like cereal with a splash of nut milk. So combining the crispyness of sprouted-dried buckwheat, coconut shreds, and chocolate seemed like good way to start. Instead of melting down chocolate with golden syrup as I remember my mum doing, I simply made a mixture using melted coconut oil, rice syrup for sweetness and carob powder in place of the cocoa. You could of course make these using cocoa powder, but I wanted to keep them completely stimulant free for the little ones. They were enjoyed by a gaggle of two year olds and mamas and our high came from all of the dancing and den-building we enjoyed. No party-food-crash in sight.
A few notes on the recipe: You can use good quality cocoa powder (as I mentioned above), carob powder or a mixture of the two in these. I made them using carob for the little ones, but have tried with both cacao and a mix and all are delicious. Make sure that you buy the raw buckwheat groats, not he roasted variety which wont sprout and will just turn to mush. Feel free to use your liquid sweetener of choice, and adjust to your taste. Be aware that carob is naturally sweet, so you might want to use a bit more sweetener if making them with cocoa. These will keep for weeks in the fridge, if they ever last that long!
Buckwheat Crackle Cakes
Makes about 12
1 cup buckwheat groats, soaked in 2 cups water for 4 hours
1 cup dessicated coconut
3 tbsp brown rice syrup/ honey/ maple syrup
3 tbsp cocoa powder or carob powder
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
To make the buckwheaties, strain the soaking water out through a sieve and rinse the buckwheat well. It will omit alot of ‘slimy’ gel so rinse as much of that away and leave to sprout in the sieve over a bowl for 12 hours, rinsing again before drying. Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature setting, spread the buckwheat sprouts onto a tray lined with baking paper and place into the oven for about 30 minutes, until they are completely dry but not coloured. Check they are dry by crushing one between your fingers, it should feel crunchy with no moisture left inside. Alternatively, you can dry them using a food dehydrator overnight. Store the buckwheaties in a jar until ready to use.
In a mixing bowl, mix 1 cup of the buckwheat sprouts (save any extras for sprinkling on your breakfast), the dessicated coconut and cocoa/carob powder. Making sure that the coconut oil is fully melted, pour it into the bowl along with the syrup and stir well until all combined. Spoon out some of the mixture into your hands and roll into balls. You will need to work fast before the coconut oil has a chance to set. Either pop into small paper cases or pop straight into a container or on a plate before refrigerating until hard. They will store in the fridge for weeks (hmm, good luck with that!)
Love and cocoa kisses ; )