There are a number of nutritional benefits of raw, organic cacao. It is very high in anti-oxidants, with the ORAC value being around 55,000, vs. 4,700 for blueberries, 9,000 for cranberries and 4,500 for pomegranate. It is the highest plant-based source of iron known. It is also very high in magnesium, which is an essential mineral that is deficient in a lot of diets.
Cacao trees are grown in equatorial regions in South America, Asia and Africa. They do best in warm climates with sufficient rain. The trees can grow up to 40’ tall, but farmers keep them cut back to aid in harvesting the pods. Since the tree is sensitive to sunlight, it does best as a shade tree, growing under the forest canopy. The cacao tree bears fruit year round, so there is a steady supply. The fruit (pods) vary quite a bit in color, size and shape. A ripe fruit can contain around 20 – 75 cacao beans.
Cacao products start with the harvesting of the cacao fruit or pod when they ripen to a red or orange color. The seeds (sometimes called beans) are embedded in a white pulp, on the inside of the pod. The pods are split open to reveal the pulp and beans which are then fermented together. The outer pod is discarded. During the fermentation process, the pulp “liquefies” and drains away, leaving the beans. This fermentation process eliminates a lot of bitterness from the beans. It takes about 200- 400 dried seeds to make 1 lb of chocolate. The seeds are then spread out and dried, either in the sun or in air dryers. Depending on the end use, the beans are then roasted. They are then cracked and deshelled, resulting in cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground into a thick paste known either as cacao paste or chocolate liquor. The paste is then put through a hydraulic press, which separates out the cacao butter. from the paste. What is left is called cacao mass or press cake and this is then ground into cacao powder.