December 13th is coming up…which means it is almost time to celebrate National Cocoa Day!
One of the world’s favorite cozy cold-weather drinks, cocoa is a mysterious and exotic rainforest food from ancient Maya.
Its sensuous and rich flavor has captured the imagination of people for over 3000 years.
Let’s discover a bit more about cocoa.
Fun Facts About Cocoa
Here are 5 interesting facts about cocoa:
- The cocoa bean (also called cacao bean, cocoa, and cacao) is the dried, fully fermented seed of Theobromacacao.
- The cocoa tree measures anywhere from 4 to 8 meters and can live up to 100 years.
- The fruit of the cocoa tree grows directly from the tree trunk. It looks like a small melon and the pulp inside contains 20-50 seeds or ‘beans.’
- It takes 5 years for a cocoa tree to produce its first seed pods and you need 400 beans to make one pound of chocolate!
- Similar to wine, cocoa’s flavor profile changes depending on where it is grown.
The History of Cocoa
Originating in the Andes (where wild cacao is still grown), the ancient tribes of the Maya Indians fell under the spell of the enchanting cocoa bean around 600 AD.
The Mayans used cocoa as a ritual beverage that was drunk during marriage ceremonies.
Christopher Columbus brought the first cocoa beans back to Europe somewhere around 1502.
Today, annual worldwide cocoa production is 4.5 million tons with 65 percent grown in West Africa.
How Cocoa Powder Is Processed
The process by which cocoa powder is made is complex.
The fermented cocoa beans are roasted. Then the nibs are ground in order to extract the cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. Next, the chocolate liquor is dried and ground into a powder.
The result is what is called natural cocoa powder.
A second way to produce cocoa powder is called the Dutch process.
Cocoa powder prepared using the Dutch process differs from the natural method in that an alkali solution is added to the beans during roasting. The result is a milder, more mellow-tasting and less acidic chocolate.
Natural cocoa powder is left untreated. It boasts a strong chocolate flavor and is relatively bitter.
The Health Benefits of Cocoa
Cocoa tastes good and it is really good for your health as well.
The antioxidant-rich cacao bean is filled with phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, copper, iron, zinc, and potassium.
And natural cocoa powder may have twice as many phytonutrients than Dutch cocoa.
Studies show that the antioxidant activity in cocoa is almost twice as strong as red wine, 2-3 times stronger than green tea, and 4-5 times stronger than that of black tea!
Polyphenols in cocoa may lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve insulin resistance and glucose levels, boost the immune system, help prevent cancer, improve brain health, and elevate mood.
Eating cocoa is not the same as eating dark chocolate.
Cocoa powder keeps all the health-promoting benefits associated with the cocoa beans without the added saturated fat (cocoa butter) and sugar found in dark chocolate.
There is only ONE way to celebrate this holiday, and that is to make a delicious cup of hot cocoa!
Here is an incredible recipe for Hazelnut Hot Cocoa from the Power Plant Café in Melbourne, Australia.