27 Dec Everyone Loves (Raw) Chocolate
Even though conventionally roasted chocolate possesses only a hint of the many benefits of raw cacao, most humans are quite aware of its friendly and supportive role. But it is the uncooked cacao bean, which completely outshines the happy chocolate buzz that so much of the world adores.
Raw cacao has been dubbed the world’s greatest super food. The health benefits of raw cacao seem to know no limits. Ingesting raw cacao is said to surge antioxidants, increase blood flow, combat depression, boost magnesium and iron levels, lower blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The list stretches onwards towards the infinite. However, what really matters is how raw cacao makes you feel. Cacao is known to offer an experience of open-hearted appreciation, heightened sensory awareness, and uplifting positivity. Chemists point towards interesting compounds such as theobromine and anadamide. Theobromine acts as a very mild stimulant, similar to its powerful cousin, caffeine. However, Theo focuses much more specifically on the heart, promoting vascular health by increasing heart flow. Anandamide was named for the Sanskrit work for bliss, ananda. This compound works upon the brain to promote feelings of wellbeing and mild euphoria. It is also rumored that MAO-inhibitors in cacao can help one stay blissed out longer, before needing to return to a reality of facts, figures and bills to pay. Another popular way to achieve this neurological effect is to fall in love. This similarity is a likely reason that longing for love may lead one towards a chocolate bar. If this sounds like some kind of heavy drug use, don’t panic. It’s only chocolate, after all. The experience is certain to be mild, kind, freeing and playful.
Cacao’s ancient ceremonial usage deeply influenced the spirituality of the societies that first revered the magic bean. Cacao was first enjoyed as a sacred medicine by the indigenous peoples of Central America, who drank cacao during ceremonies to celebrate important community events, and to consult with when important decisions needed to be made.
These days, in Ubud, the progressive and spiritual center of Bali, and perhaps of all Asia, there are cacao ceremonies happening almost every night of the week. The focus of each circle may vary, depending on who is leading, but generally raw cacao is dissolved into a potent liquid form and ingested collectively and mindfully, sometimes with a little sweetener or other medicinal herbs or tinctures, and sometimes just as pure, bitter liquid cacao. The event may include dancing, singing, meditating, speaking intentions, perhaps even eye-gazing or conscious physical touch. Participants often describe feeling ecstatic, inspired and heart-centered, or energized and grounded at the same time.
From the sacred to the profane: party animals in nightclubs from Amsterdam to Berlin are increasingly snorting powdered raw cacao like they once did with cocaine. Snorting causes a much faster onset of effect than ingestion, as the cacao is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream via the soft tissue in the nasal cavity. Raw cacao is completely legal, but clubbers claim it gets them high nevertheless, and that they feel energized enough to dance all night, and they feel more connected, both to themselves, and to people around them.
Eating raw chocolate is also a much healthier alternative to conventional “candy” chocolate, because raw chocolate is often made with natural ingredients and fewer commercial additives. Cheap and refined white sugar, made from GMO beet or cane, is replaced with organic coconut palm sugar, for example, which has a wonderful taste profile, and also boasts the lowest glycemic index of any natural sugar. Palm nectar is another popular sweetener, as are stevia, and the polyalcohol known as zylotol. For milk chocolates, unsustainable animal products such as powder made from cow milk, used to make European chocolates more creamy, can be replaced with healthy plant-based coconut, almond or cashew milks.
The main belief behind raw food is that cooking destroys nutrients and natural enzymes, which boost digestion and fight chronic disease. But there is some controversy in the raw food community about raw chocolate, with critics pointing to the physical difficulties of fermenting, drying and grinding cacao beans without inducing high temperatures. Some say the temperatures for raw food must always be kept below 42 degrees Celsius, others claim anything up to 50 degrees is cool enough. The good news is that the ORAC scores, used to measure the high levels of antioxidants in raw cacao, only begin to decrease significantly when roasted at much higher temperatures than these. There may be heated arguments about what is raw, but they remain inconclusive. Despite decades of debate, the there are still no internationally accepted standards or certifications to define rawness. And my own guess is that cacao beans will require a separate standard from other raw foods.
There is also some controversy about raw chocolate from the traditional chocolate industry, which likes to claim that raw cacao is dangerous, and that only roasting at very high temperatures can ensure the elimination of pathogens such as salmonella. To give some perspective on this mindset; health food stores in California have, even in recent years, been raided by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), who have seized organic vegetables and other products, claiming that organic food production is dangerous to humans. Despite these concerns, and despite raw chocolate’s increasing popularity, we have yet to see any actual reports of pathogenic contamination in raw chocolate or cacao.
The world of raw cacao is currently experiencing a massive surge in popularity. We are waking up to the glorious benefits of cacao in its uncooked state, with more and more raw chocolate companies offering a much healthier, guilt-free variations on it’s traditionally over-processed candy predecessor. And here on the island of Bali, we are playing an increasingly important role. Big Tree Farms have built a successful business model exporting raw cacao products all over the world, providing raw materials for a fast-growing market of raw chocolate producers. In Bali’s local market, Ubud Raw Chocolate Factory has introduced a freshly-made, refrigerated, non-tempered, and fully plant-based raw chocolate with a short shelf-life, which many experts are claiming to be one of the best-tasting and creamiest chocolates available anywhere — even when compared to traditionally venerated Swiss and Belgian chocolates. Ubud Raw is now expanding into the international market, having just begun its first partnership in the Netherlands. The company also produces organic ceremonial cacao for the local and international community. Blocks of pure cacao mass, sourced directly from local farmers in West Bali, for whom spiritual blessings and ceremonies are an integral part of each stage of the process, from the planting and growing of the cacao fruit, to the fermentation and grinding of the raw beans. International leaders of cacao ceremonies, including Matteo Tangi, who was recently visiting from Italy, have commented that Bali cacao may be among the most potent available for a ceremonial high and deep heart connection experience.
Everyone loves chocolate. And with raw cacao, perhaps we can finally let go of our guilt, and love it unconditionally.
By Rolf Gibbs