What’s the deal with: Raw Cacao

Have you heard of the Hemsleys? Of Deliciously Ella? Wellness bloggers are taking the food world by storm, and with them they’re bringing a huge number of new ‘superfoods’. I follow a few ‘wellness bloggers’ on Twitter and Instagram, and am slightly overwhelmed by some of the ingredients they advocate using: chia seeds? Raw cacao? Bee pollen?

I love trying new ingredients, but sometimes having so many billed as the next best thing can be a bit much – how do you know what to invest in, and what’s not worth the hassle? I decided to do some research, and find out just how super these new superfoods are.

This will be the first in a series of posts where I lay down the facts as I can find them, and try and judge whether the new superfoods are worth your time. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.

Raw Cacao

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The technical bit
Finding ingredients in cocoa powder is difficult – the majority of brands simply list ‘Ingredients: Cocoa powder’, without any more information. I did a bit of detective work and discovered that standard cocoa powders also contain acidity regulators, which makes them less bitter. This in itself doesn’t seem like a bad thing – especially in light of people like Natasha Corrett who claim that an alkaline diet is good for you – though it is a step away from the ‘pure’ form of raw cacao.

Raw cacao contains a number of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, calcium, and ‘more magnesium than any other food’, according to Tipper Lewis (head herbalist at Neal’s Yard Remedies). It also raises your serotonin levels, but although Lewis claims this means it ‘acts as an anti-depressant’ and Deliciously Ella talks about ‘the same [chemical reaction] as when we experience love’, this is all going a bit overboard. Despite extensive googling I was unable to find a single statistic telling me how much serotonin raw cacao contains, which leads me to believe there’s a definite lacking in specific scientific evidence (if you do know the numbers, please comment below – I’d love to hear them).

While raw cacao is produced by cold-pressing cocoa beans, cocoa powder is made with beans that have been roasted to intensify the chocolatey flavour. When cocoa beans are roasted they lose some of their nutrients, which is why in the clean eating movement the raw version has risen in popularity. Who honestly eats chocolate to be healthy, though? Surely it’s much better to eat healthily normally and then indulge a bit?

Is it worth it?
Cacao nibs are simply chopped cocoa beans, and therefore contain all the nutrients of the original bean. They’re much better for you than packets of chocolate chips (which contain a lot of additives) or even chopped, good-quality chocolate, which is what I usually use in baking. Even the best chocolate you can buy contains added sugar, so using cacao nibs means you can completely control the amount of sugar you’re using in your baking.

As far as the raw cacao powder is concerned, though, I’m less convinced. So long as you’re buying a good quality ‘cocoa powder’ rather than ‘drinking chocolate’, you’re probably all good. Although it retains fewer antioxidants and nutrients than the raw cacao powder, it’s undoubtedly cheaper, and has a naturally sweeter flavour.

Verdict
I’ll be buying raw cacao nibs for some recipes that call for chocolate chips – they make an interesting change, though they’re very different from chocolate. For everything else, I’ll stick to a good cocoa powder.

Price: 5/10 – at roughly £2 for 100g, it’s certainly not cheap.
Taste: 6/10 I like it, though it’s certainly not chocolate, and is an acquired taste.
Super powers: 3/10 – though I love the idea of raw cacao bursting with nutrients and acting as nature’s anti-depressant, the amount you’d have to consume to see any actual benefit would be a LOT.

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Cacao Nib Cookies

You can, of course, use chocolate instead of raw cacao for these cookies! If you do, use 150g of chopped, good quality dark chocolate.

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Ingredients (makes 15):
– 120g slightly salted butter
– 100g light brown sugar
– 75g granulated sugar
– ½ tsp vanilla extract
– 1 egg
– 240g plain flour
– ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
– 60g raw cacao nibs

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, and grease and line a large baking tray.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugars until just combined. Stir in the vanilla extract and egg.

3. Stir in the flour and bicarb until the mixture just comes together as a dough, then mix in the cacao nibs (or chocolate, if using).

4. Divide the dough into golf-ball sized balls. Place well apart on the baking tray (you may need to bake in batches) and flatten slightly with the heel of your hand.

5. Bake for 15 minutes, until just beginning to colour. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool.

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