I’ve always been the biggest chocaholic, as I’m sure lots of you are too! There is something so comforting about tucking into something deliciously chocolaty in front of the TV or sharing it with a friend. We all know that chocolate should be a treat but the good news is that you can easily make healthy chocolate and chocolaty desserts so you won’t have to ditch it forever. You can simply just transition to healthy chocolate made with raw cacao and natural sweeteners. As lots of you know I used to be quite a serious sugar monster and the idea of ditching chocolate for me was really quite terrifying, but once I discovered that I could make things like raw brownies, life became great again!
The biggest difference between nutritious chocolate and not-so-nutritious chocolate is what goes into it. Regular store bought chocolate is filled with sugar, condensed milk, cocoa powder and often a whole list of other ingredients. Whereas ‘healthy’ chocolate doesn’t use the additives, refined sugar or refined cocoa and instead uses raw cacao powder. I use raw cacao powder all the time, it’s awesome and lots of you have asked me about it before so I wanted to talk a little bit about it today to answer your questions and clear up any confusion! Unlike regular cocoa powder, raw cacao is made by cold-pressing un-roasted cocoa beans to remove the fat without killing the living enzymes. It has lots health benefits and contains loads of minerals from magnesium to iron, potassium, manganese, zinc, and calcium. It’s really rich in antioxidants too, which is why you often read that chocolate is good for you – these studies aren’t really talking about Cadbury’s or Hershey’s but about the health properties of the raw cacao itself. The other awesome thing about raw cacao is that it’s a natural mood booster – this is because it stimulates the same chemicals in the brain that are released when we experience love (now we know why people give chocolates on Valentine’s day!) I know that cocoa powder is cheaper and easier to find but as you use much less of the raw cacao powder, it lasts much longer so it doesn’t end up being more expensive – unless you’re planning on making a new batch of brownies everyday! Raw cacao also has a much stronger taste so you only need to use a small amount to get that amazing chocolatey taste. This is important to remember if you switch the cacao for cocoa in my recipes as you’ll need about double the amount of cocoa to get the same flavour.
The confusing thing about raw cacao is all the different forms it comes in – you can get raw cacao powder, raw cacao nibs and raw cacao butter. All three are made from cacao beans but they’re totally different and should be used in different ways, sadly they’re really not interchangeable. I get lots of people saying that the recipes they tried didn’t work as they used nibs not powder to make something like Nutella, which is such a shame because grinding cacao nibs is not the same as using a powder so it will totally alter the finished product. Cacao butter, on the other hand, is totally different. It comes from the fatty part of the the cocao fruit and is generally pretty tasteless, but it’s essential for making pure chocolate. Personally I don’t really use the nibs, they work well as a topping for porridge or something but I don’t love them on their own and I rarely cook with them. Instead I use the powder all the time to make chocolaty goodness and I keep a pot of the butter in the cupboard for those times when you just need a big slab of chocolate!
If you’re going to start with just one product then I’d recommend starting with just the powder as it’s the most versatile and you can use it in so many recipes from cookies to cakes, energy balls, smoothies, porridge, brownies and candied pecan chocolate! The powder is available in health food shops or online from places like amazon! Cacao butter is harder to get hold of though so I always buy mine online from somewhere like amazon.
A few people have also asked about studies relating to the toxicity of raw cacao, which is something that I haven’t yet come across. I’ve been looking for it a lot recently to try and learn more but I just can’t find anything! I know there are some people that avoid raw cacao due to the caffeine that it contains, but that’s not related to it being toxic. While I generally avoid caffeine, I don’t get affected by cacao (unless I eat a whole cake before bed and then I do seem to struggle to get to sleep!). If this is something you avoid you can try using Carob instead. Carob is made from a different type of pod where the pulp can be roasted and ground into a powder that resembles cacao. Personally I don’t like the taste anywhere near as much but if raw cacao isn’t for you then this is the best option!