The description, raw cacao, usually refers to the seeds, which are found inside a cacao or cocoa fruit. Lining the inside of the orange leathery skinned fruit, shaped rather like a football and similar in size to a small one of those, are rows of seeds, covered in whitish, sweet flesh.
When fermented and dried, the resultant ‘cocoa beans’ can be used as they are or cold pressed to separate the cocoa butter from the dry powdery ‘cocoa’, which is then roasted as part of the process of making chocolate.
Ripe cacao pod
Raw cacao has very high concentrations of anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, so is extremely helpful for those suffering from heart disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome. It can be used as a preventative for these diseases as well as for cancer, stroke, hypertension, osteoporosis, high cholesterol, alzheimers disease and glaucoma – as well as being a superb relaxant!
Do you sometimes find yourself craving chocolate? If so, your body knows what is good for it! Cacao is packed with beneficial antioxidants and minerals but dark chocolate comes a close second. Do remember though, that although dark chocolate is good for you it does have sugar added and is high in omega 6 fats so limit your intake to a small piece daily. Skip milk chocolate as it is loaded with fattening sugars and fats, some of which are from cheaper sources, other than the cacao bean.
Split cacao pod, seeds in rows inside, covered with white, edible flesh
The cacao (theobroma cacao) or cocoa tree grows in very specific climatic and soil conditions, requiring a humid, tropical climate with year-round rainfall and protection from winds and too much sun. Tiny pinkish-white flowers, only a small percentage of which will mature into fruit, grow on the trees’ trunks. Originally from South America, Central America and Mexico, cacao was so highly valued as a food and medicine that it had a special place in the culture of the peoples of those areas.
Raw cacao, fermented and dried, ready for shelling.
Cacao has very specific requirements in order to thrive. Several areas in North Queensland around Mossman, Daintree and Innisfail, have been found to be suitable for the commercial production of cacao.
A cooperative of cocoa farmers, the Daintree Estates, has been farming chocolate trees for a decade or so. Trees are producing well and the commercial production and sales of high quality chocolate is now available.
Inside the shells - bitter tasting but deliciously 'chocolatey' unroasted cocoa nibs.
Seeing this success, and encouraged by research undertaken by government scientific organisations and universities, smaller growers are converting areas of small sugar holdings into the, potentially, more lucrative chocolate tree, which seems to have a bright future, give the world-wide demand for high quality cocoa beans.