Did you know that "eggs" were chosen by the ancient pagans as a custom for Easter to symbolise "new beginnings"?
Even though chocolate eggs have long been an Easter tradition, many people aren't aware of this historic fact.
Actually, it wasn't until the late 1800's that chocolate eggs became ubiquitous with Easter, when Cadbury released the first delicious, hollow chocolate eggs onto the market in 1875.
Since then, chocolate bunnies and eggs have been a yearly part of the Easter celebration, however the quality of chocolate and ingredients used is a far cry from "real" chocolate the way nature intended.
Here we take a quick dive into the history of chocolate, the problem with today's commercial varieties and the benefits of real chocolate for enjoyment at Easter...or as a mood-boosting treat at any time of year!
An Ancient History
The key ingredient in real chocolate is Cacao, which has been used as a medicinal for thousands of years. Cacao is derived from the "Theobroma" - an evergreen tree, native to South America.
It all started in Mesoamerica - cultural civilisations that developed in parts of Latin America in the 16th Century - where the ancient Olmec, Mayans and Aztecs consumed cacao as a sacred drink during rituals and for medicinal purposes.
They found this drink to be both soothing and invigorating, and it was shared knowledge that cacao was a mood enhancer, which is why the ancients believed that Cacao was a "sacred" food.
In Latin America the cacao "pulp", called "baba", was used to make a fermented cacao wine as early as 3,000 years ago.
The first "modern" chocolate bar is believed to have been created by Joseph Fry, who in 1847 discovered that he could make a chocolate paste and mould it into shapes, by adding melted cacao butter to Dutch cocoa. By 1868, a little company called Cadbury was marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England.
Not As It Should Be
Fast forward to our modern world and chocolate has become one of the most heavily commoditised and over processed foods on our supermarket shelves today.
Big confectionary corporations have manipulated and squandered the sacred, traditional, nutritious nature of this healing food, to commercialise it with the heavy use of processed sugar, milk powders, preservatives and chemical additives that keep you addicted to a modern day treat that has little resemblance to real chocolate.
We've seen it time and time again - where huge food companies take a completely natural, earth-made ingredient, and process it into a product that no longer resembles anything like what nature intended.
Another interesting fact about traditional cacao, is that it has the cannabinoid 9 in its nutritional components, which is a mood elevating natural compound, that alleviates stress and supports emotional wellbeing.
How Real Chocolate Is Made
The cacao tree produces large, pod-like fruits, each containing 20–60 beans or seeds, surrounded by a sticky, sweet-tart white pulp.
The seeds of the cacao tree have a natural bitter taste, and must first be fermented to develop a smoother flavour suitable for consumption and enjoyment.
After fermentation the beans are dried, cleaned and then roasted. The shell of the cacao bean is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground to produce cocao mass or pure chocolate in a rough form.
This is the rough process for making real chocolate:
Fermentation - The beans or seeds, with some of the sticky pulp still clinging on, are placed into bins and then covered for a handful of days so that the microbes that feed on the pulp can ferment the beans. This is what activates the distinctive, chocolate flavour and aroma
Drying - The fermented beans are then dried for several days. Once dry, they may be sorted and sold to chocolate makers
Roasting - Unless a raw product is desired, the dried beans are then roasted. This roasting step, more fully develops the chocolate flavour and gives the beans a touch of sweetness
Crushing - The beans are crushed and separated from their outer hulls, resulting in broken cacao pieces called "nibs"
Grinding: Nibs are ground, producing a non-alcoholic liquor. Now it’s ready to be made into chocolate products.
Cocoa Mass: Nibs are finely ground into "cocoa mass", also known as "cocoa liquor", which is solid at room temperature. Placed under extremely high pressure, this paste yields two products: Cocoa Powder and Cocoa Butter.
Chocolate: Cocoa mass can simply be combined with more cocoa butter and sweetener to make chocolate. The first steps are to mix, grind, and knead the various raw ingredients into a paste. The ingredients used are dependent on the type of chocolate being made.
For "dark chocolate", it requires only cocoa mass, cocoa butter and sweetener. When you add milk powder, is produces the lighter variety, "milk chocolate". As a substitute for sugar, high quality raw chocolate brands use organic maple syrup or coconut nectar to sweeten their products.
Your body knows what to eat
During times of emotional imbalance or stress, chocolate is one of those "mood foods" that so many people naturally reach for because intuitively your body knows that chocolate is a mood soothing food.
The catch is, when you buy processed chocolate sold at big supermarkets, you're getting none of the real benefits of cacao.
Not only that, you're also consuming a host of additives and preservatives that are n't good for your body.
It's also important to keep in mind, that like coffee, cacao is one of the most heavily commoditised crops on earth and is known to exploit many poor people with "slave labour". For this reason, always look out for "fair trade" chocolate products.
Best Chocolate Alternatives
If you love chocolate, it's one of those foods you can easily make yourself at home - and get all of the benefits of REAL chocolate - using a handful of raw ingredients like:
- Raw Cacao Powder
- Coconut Oil
- Organic Maple Syrup
- Pure Vanilla Extract and
- Sea Salt.
*Add roasted almonds or hazelnuts for variety as a tasty option.
Alternatively, the good news is there are several delicious, raw, guilt-free chocolates out there on the market.
One of our favourite is Pana Chocolate.
The Health Benefits Eating Chocolate
There are so many health and healing benefits of including real chocolate into your diet. Some of these benefits include:
- Alleviate Depression and Boost Happiness
- Support Cardiovascular Health
- Prevent Diabetes and Stroke
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Relieve the symptoms of PMS
Raw Chocolate is rich in a range of minerals including, Iron, Copper, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Zinc and powerful antioxidants known as Flavanols to help mop up free radicals in the blood stream which cause inflammation.
The Main Takeaway
Real chocolate has been revered for thousands of years for its sacred health and healing benefits and for enjoyment.
Unfortunately, commercial chocolate is a far cry from the way real chocolate is meant to be and comes with a long list of additives and sweeteners that are not good for your health.
Thankfully, there are a range of boutique chocolate brands on the market these days that honour the integrity of real chocolate and the way that it is meant to be made and consumed.
Get your hands on some of these amazing chocolate products and notice the difference for yourself. Or, experiment by making your own chocolate at home, using raw cacao powder as a base and by adding a handful of ingredients as we've suggested. You will find simply, easy-to-follow recipes for making home-made chocolate online.
Tolman Self Care.