Since I discovered it two years ago, raw cacao has become my new cinnamon. Anyone that knows me or has read this article knows that I absolutely adore cinnamon. However, lately I started to give a lot more credit to cacao, to the point where now they both occupy the same sweet spot in my heart & mind.
You might think I have mis-spelt “cocoa” in the title. However, cacao differs from cocoa, in that it is made by cold-pressing raw cocoa beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cocoa and removes the fat (cacao butter). On the other hand, cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures, which changes the molecular structure of the cocoa bean, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value.
My cacao frenzy truly began when I started to bake brownies. This rose my senses to the intense smell and distinctive taste of cacao. Once interest stirred, my mind cleverly thought of at least 13 ways to allow me indulge in more cacao:
1. Nutritious brownies
As I mentioned above, I discovered the sublime taste and texture of cacao, while experimenting with making “healthy” brownies. I was initially inspired to make brownies out of sweet potatoes and beetroots, and subsequently came up with my own recipe: parsnip brownies.
One would never think that brownies made out of these root vegetables could ever taste any good. However, bathed in cacao, these vegetables become the root of glorious goodness.
2. Homemade chocolate
Inspired by this recipe, I decided to make my own dark chocolate. I was surprised by how easy it was. All it took was warming up 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, 1 tablespoon of honey and cinnamon, melting 150g cocoa butter and then mixing these liquids with 100g raw cacao powder. I then pour the resulting chocolatey liquid over pecan nuts and goji berries and settled them in the fridge. This homemade chocolate is delicious and diet-friendly, as it has no chemicals, additives or refined sugar. Just pure goodness, sumptuously rich and satisfying from the first bite.
3. Banana dip
I started dipping my beloved banana slices in cacao powder as an after-meal dessert or afternoon snack (when running low on nut butters). This made me discover how well the sweetness of bananas complement the intense taste of cacao. I sometimes make a breakfast out of this sneaky treat, by topping a slice of bread with banana slices, baking it for a few minutes and sprinkling cacao powder on top. A peacefully content brekkie.
4. Fruit sprinkle
Following on from the delight I get from my banana dipped in cocoa, I started sprinkling cacao on other types of fruits. The rich taste of cacao offsets the acidity and sweetness of fruits, making a delicious and healthy snack.
5. Natural yogurt topping
I just love how nicely a teaspoon of cacao blends with a creamy natural yoghurt, forming a rich & tasty chocolate mouse. It’s the perfect alternative to the highly processed, sugar-laden yoghurt sold in shops. Top up your cacao-yogurt blend with seeds and fruits to top the goodness.
6. Energy balls
I love making these energy balls, they're a wonderful blend of nature's best bits. The sweetness and tenderness of Medjool dates, the richness of cacao, the texture of almonds, the crunchiness of hemp seeds and the smoothness of coconut snowballed into a burst of energy. Coat them in coconut flakes and sprinkle them with cinnamon.
7. Ice-creamy truffles
My freezer is full of blackberries, cherries and raspberries (in fact, I bought it only to store them), as I live in a resourceful village. So, I experimented with blending 2 cups of my frozen berries with 4 tablespoons of raw cacao powder, ¾ cup of oats, 1/2 cashew nuts, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, ½ cup desiccated coconut, a sprinkle of lucuma powder, cinnamon and 1/4 vanilla pod. Then, I formed little balls out of this mixture, coated them in coconut sprinkle and put them in the freezer to settle. Once frozen, these little beauties tasted like a rich chocolate ice-cream.
8. Comfort hot drink
At the end of a cold day, I love curling up on the sofa with a cup of my homemade cinnamony hot choc. Due to the rich texture and intense flavour of cacao, I only need to add one teaspoon of cacao to a cup of hot milk and sprinkle a generous amount of cinnamon and lucuma powder for sweetness. This is my utmost comfort drink which totally perks up my evenings and my mood after a full day of work. You can become decadently indulgent with this, by adding some runny almond butter to this drink and sipping it from a cinnamon stick.
One of my favourite milkshakes is my so-called co-banana. I make it by blending 1 banana with 1 or 2 tablespoons of cacao (depending on how intense I want the shake to be), 1 cup of milk (dairy of plant-based mylk), 2 or 3 Medjool dates and some cinnamon and baobab sprinkle. This is an excellent way to an energising start to the day ahead, as it will enrich your body with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Heaven.
Once, while making guacamole, I decided to get adventurous and dropped one baked cocoa bean into the food processor to … see what happened. A distinctive type of what I now call avo-cacao paste came out. The chillies and red peppers that I had put into the mix perfectly blended with the strong cocoa bean. This savoury snack can be enjoyed any time, either on toast or by dipping fresh legumes (carrots, celery, peppers, cauliflowers, baby corn etc.) in it. Either way, it is wonderfully satisfying.
10. Cacao pasta
Inspired by Hotel Chocolat Cocoa Pasta, I’ve started creating my own version of this, by sprinkling cacao on boiled brown-rice pasta and then baking it with ground walnuts, cinnamon and honey. Perfect for a comforting, heart-warming dinner that enlivens all the senses.
11. Face mask
Learning about the antioxidant properties of cacao, I decided to experiment by preparing my own chocolate facemask. I mixed one teaspoon of cacao, with one teaspoon of honey, a tablespoon of coconut oil and a shot of milk. Putting this delicious mask on my face has become my pampering ritual at the end of each week. Sometimes I wear it overnight to allow my face to absorb all the nutrients and wake up with a rejuvenated, glowing face.
12. Fragrance booster
As a decorative element on my breakfast bar, I have a cup full of cocoa beans, which I’ve collected from various cocoa-growing places such as the Dominican Republic. One day, I just took a few of cocoa beans and put them in the oven. After a few minutes, a delightful cocoa fragrance invaded my home.
Since then, whenever I feel like gracing my sense of smell, I bake a few cocoa beans for several minutes. Then, I leave the oven door open, to allow the emerging rich fragrance to fill my house and turn it into a comfort zone. This is the perfect alternative to satisfying my sense of taste (i.e. avoiding to consume chocolate), as the rich smell makes me feel like I am bathing all my senses in cocoa. If I don’t have time to bake cocoa beans, I fix my chocolate cravings by opening my cacao bag and inhaling the rich smell of goodness.
13. Wine infuser
I haven’t tried this yet, but I fantasise about infusing a cacao sachet or sprinkling some raw cacao powder over red wine for a sumptuous flavour. This would definitely take the goodness of red wine to the highest level.