You say cocoa; we say cacao. Even though they both stem from the same native South American plant, they’re very different ingredients. A health food staple, cacao starts as a versatile little bean harvested from the cacao plant’s seed pod and comes into our kitchens in the form of powder, nibs or butter. Where these two chocolatey cousins differ is in the way the pods are processed. To make cocoa, high heat is applied to raw cacao, affecting the beans on a molecular level, bringing out a sweet flavour and destroying some of its nutrients. While cocoa isn’t entirely ‘bad’ for you, cacao is packed full of goodness.

Health Hero

The features of cacao are as complex as its pronunciation (‘ca-kow’) but bear in mind that this is a potent ingredient, so keep your consumption at less than 40 grams of raw cacao per day.

Up The Antioxidants

When it comes to super substances, raw organic cacao tops the charts with its oxidant-fighting powers. Assist your body in hindering or halting cell damage caused by free radicals found both in the environment and internally. With over 40 times the amount of antioxidants found in blueberries, cacao has an incredible ORAC score of 98,000 per 100g, with blueberries scoring 2,400.

Popeye put spinach on the map for being an iron-rich food, registering 3.6mg per 100g. At the same time, red meats, like beef and lamb have long-held their high-iron reputation, clocking in at 2.5mg per 100g. But, when it comes to ironing out the best source of this mighty mineral, cacao is the highest plant-based source of iron, boasting an incredible 7.3mg per 100g. For vegetarians and vegans, this superior source of iron works best when combined with foods high in vitamin C.

Magic Magnesium

Look no further than magnesium for a healthy heart and a buzzing brain. As the western world’s most scant substance, magnesium helps turn glucose into the kind of energy that gets your grey matter into gear and sharpens your focus. Raw organic cacao is one of the highest plant-based sources of this vital mineral.

Calcium Champion

If you think cow’s milk is the king of calcium, you’re not alone. But the truth is, raw organic cacao leaves your latte in the lurch as a significant source of calcium. It has a surprising 160mg per 100g, as opposed to 125mg per 100ml of milk.

Frame of Mind

Because it’s packed with chemical messengers that signal the sensations of contentment and happiness, cacao can dampen depression and buoy your mood. Bring on the warm and fuzzies with a natural yum that’s proven to lift your spirits.

Cacao Can Do’s

Cacao is a chameleon; add it to your favourite staples to spice them up and give them an antioxidant edge. Here are some ideas of how you can enjoy it:

Sarah Martino