Cacao, to give it it’s classical name, and the one preferred by raw chocolate makers, is the dried and fermented seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, literally ‘tree of the gods’.
In Mayan and Aztec societies, cacao was a fundamental part of life, it was bartered as currency, honoured as a gift from the god and images of cacao pods were carved into the walls of palaces. It was appreciated for its health qualities long before Europeans turned it into confectionary.
Cacao is a powerful, alchemic ingredient with more than 300 identifiable compounds. It is rich in antioxidant flavanols and contains protein, fats, calcium, iron, carotene, thiamine and riboflavine. It is also full of phenylethylalmine, the hormone we associated with being in love, as well tryptophan an amino acid associated with relaxation.
Typically, chocolate is made when cacao seeds are roasted and ground to make cocoa solids and cocoa butter, which are then added back together in varying quantities to create solid chocolate. Because the beans go through this roasting process, this means that they cannot be eaten by anyone on a raw food diet. It also means that many of the flavanols which are responsible for its antioxidant properties are also destroyed in the chocolate making process.
However, some cacao suppliers have developed a method of processing the cacao beans, from harvesting through to chocolate-making, where the cacao does not reach high temperatures and therefore retains much more of its nutritional benefits.
Using this raw cacao, raw chocolate made by companies such as Ombar and Pacari, tends not to be over-processed or mixed with cheap filler ingredients such as vegetable oils, which mask the flavour of the cacao and produces low-quality chocolate. In the case of Ombar, it’s fused with low GI coconut sugar as well as berries and fruit powders to create a ‘healthy chocolate’. No vegetable fat, milk or cane sugar is added to it and it isn’t heated above 45C, the point at which nutrients start to die.
In addition having great nutritional benefits, raw cacao tends to be grown organically in ethical farming cooperatives, rather than large plantations which not only safeguards the rights of the workers, but also ensures that the cacao pods themselves are protected from over-farming.
In the case of Ombar, we source our raw cacao from SKS farms in Ecuador. We use them because they partner directly with independent farmers and pay a significant premium over market prices to ensure they are fairly compensated for their hard work. They have also set up a number of sustainability programs within the communities where the cacao is grown.
Ombars are a range of organic raw chocolate bars produced in Cambridge using raw cacao. Ombars also contain raw, freeze-dried fruit powders such as açai and goji berries which give the chocolate an extra fruity zing as well as additional nutritional benefits. You can buy Ombars from all five of Planet Organic’s stores and online, just click here.