The source of cocoa, chocolate, and cocoa butter is Cacao and is native to the Americas. The Maya, Inca and Aztec people, the plant was used as food and as a medicine. At one point, cacao was so valued that its seeds were used as currency. Cacao is a small tropical tree that thrives in warm, humid climates. It requires fertile soil and protection from wind and direct sunlight.
This tree originally came from the Amazon rainforest and then moved to Central America. In 1500 BC, the Mayans cultivated it to use for its many healing properties. The ancient Aztecs used it to create a sacred beverage they named chocolate. This is where it gets it the name “chocolate”. The first chocolate bar was made in the middle of the 1800s.
Centuries ago cocoa drinks were consumed to treat intestinal problems and as stimulants. It was also a popular cure for infections as well as congestion in the lungs and shortness of breath. It was used externally to treat wounds, burns and skin irritations.
Some of its other uses were to treat angina (chest pain), improve digestion, gain weight, prevent fatigue and cure tuberculosis, bronchitis, fever, gout and kidney stones. Wow, what a long list of benefits of eating chocolate from something that tastes so good!
So what gives chocolate its many healing properties? The plant contains over three hundred chemical compounds. They are very rich in caffeine and theobromine which is an alkaloid that has an energizing effect on the nervous system and a calming effect on the brain. It also contains epicatechin, catechins, flavonoids, and procyanidins. These all directly contribute to its health benefits of eating chocolate.
Theobromine helps to relax bronchial passages, making breathing easier. It also can relax the walls of blood vessels and the digestive tract. Chocolate also raises blood sugar and blood pressure to a slight degree. Feel good hormones are released by the brain when you have dark chocolate. This is due to the chemical phenylethylamine being stimulated on digestion of dark chocolate.
The Cacao plant is very high in antioxidants that protect your body against the danger from free radicals and oxidation. Some researchers suggest that these antioxidants may help delay the symptoms of some diseases like heart disease and cancer. Cacao has a higher antioxidant action than even red wine or tea.
If you’ve ever wondered why eating chocolate make us feel so good, it’s most likely due to its high levels of phenylethylamine. This is what gives chocolate its mood elevating effect and is a positive for people with depression.
So there you have it. Now you’ve got a good excuse to eat more chocolate! For best results, try to find the lowest calorie chocolate and cocoa you can find. You don’t want to take in huge amounts of sugar along with the antioxidants and other good compounds. Many of us would agree that when Carolus Linnaeus, in 1753 called chocolate “the food of the gods,” he was right on target. Chocolate is a universal food enjoyed by people in every country.