The motivation behind this blog was never to showcase particular recipes as such – but it just feels selfish to keep these two hidden away from the rest of the world. You can only post so many pictures of raw chocolate creations to your facebook feed before friends get impatient for a few guidelines.
I’m definitely a fan of raw chocolate – I like its ‘buzz’, its clarity, distinctiveness and purity. For the past few years I’ve been very lucky to live above a popular health food store in Brighton and a fair chunk of my food budget has been spent sampling the delights that the world of raw chocolate has to offer: from bigger operations such as the raw chocolate company, raw living & raw pie – to more recently, local artisanal produce courtesy of ‘Temple’ chocolate (highly recommended); with flavours such as ‘goji and mulberries’ and ‘rose and lavender’.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no doubt that the shelves downstairs provide a wonderful selection of ‘quick fixes’ – but I prefer to make my own from time to time. Despite the good quality of ingredients contained in many raw chocolate products, producers still tend to fill their products with improperly prepared nuts (phytate nightmate) and sweeteners that some of us on stricter protocols and regimes would rather avoid. Anyway, I reckon I’ve conjured a few recipes here that many of us can enjoy and they’re a proper marvel in the mouth – but it wouldn’t be an OA post without a bit of background on the good stuff, first.
The origins and spread of the divine ‘Theobroma Cacao‘.
Chocolate has its genesis as a fruit bestowed upon humanity by an act of divine will – according to the mythology of the Mayan people that is. Discovered by gods in the mountains of the Mexican plains, cacao was gifted to the Maya shortly after humans were deftly crafted from maize plants by the divine grandmother, goddess Xmucane .
‘Theobroma Cacao‘, literally meaning the ‘food of the gods’ has been revered by Native American cultures for generations – being used as both medicine and in ritual. In fact, the ritualistic, spiritual and political significance of this plant in these early cultures is a vast and complex affair. The earliest references suggest it was a celebrated crop of the ancient inhabiting members of the lowland regions of the Mexican gulf coast, the Olmecs. Afterward being adapted and enjoyed by the Mayans and then assimilated by the Aztecs (later arrivals to the central valley of Mexico) as food and medicine. In these cultures, cacao was gorged upon by the elites and used in ceremony – with the Mayan’s offering it up in ritual to celebrate the cacao god itself, Ek Chuah, along with the sacrifice of cacao coloured dogs and the blood of warriors .
Medicinally, cacao was used to carry other medicines too bitter in taste on their own, but also prescribed independently, on account of its own diverse and unique therapeutic qualities. Dillinger et al (2000) provide a very useful (if extensive) analysis of the historical medicinal application of cacao, through an excavation of ancient Mexica culture and later European colonial medical documents. These early texts delineate three general therapeutic applications for cacao: treating emaciated patients to inhibit further decline, to stimulate the nervous system of those feeling fatigued or weak, to aid elimination and to treat a variety of GI conditions.
The colonisation and terrorism of the ancient Mexica cultures severed cacao from its history and sacred and ritualistic basis – with Hernán Cortés, Spanish conquistador, presenting cacao as a form of ‘brown gold’ to King Charles of Spain in 1528 . Cacao’s unappealing taste to the colonisers was adapted to suit the palettes of the raiding elite by adulterating it with cane sugar – and wham, confectionery was born. This surge of interest in cacao in the West, medical or otherwise, was very much resisted by the Christian church, who poured scorn and suspicion on the substance for its ‘exhilarating effects’. However, gradually, cacao, once only prepared as a beverage to anoint the elite of the old Mexica cultures and to be used as medicine, after 1880 became a very popular foodstuff, fashioned into all kinds of fancies and coveted by Western elites .
Modern analysis confirms that the therapeutic qualities of chocolate are significant and diverse , with cacao’s nutritional profile weighing it in as a very potent ‘superfood’ – which in comparison to other foods, seems to pack a far denser punch of nutrition per ounce. Its ‘richness in carbohydrates, fat and phytonutrient flavonoids’ and a wide-spectrum antioxidant profile, make it a very nourishing, sustaining and anti-inflammatory food: indicated as effecting a broad range of conditions such as ‘cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders and mental health conditions’ . The consumption of cacao is also said to confer enhanced cognition.
These days we are saturated in chocolate – with the global chocolate market value being set at £98.3BN by 2016. The UK chocolate industry alone is worth £3.96BN with a projected 35% increase in sales over the next five years.
But it seems insane to talk about medicine in the context of the confusing array of bags and bars of the stuff on display today – rather than serve the elite, there are temples dedicated to a particular kind of chocolate on every street corner of our towns and cities. Indeed, where food poverty festers, the mars bar reigns king. The chocolate that lines the aisles of our ubiquitous corner shop is a high-sugar, high additive sludge; more brown crack than brown gold – and our communities are hooked. Dark chocolate of varying quality is still popular no doubt but pales in contrast to its highly processed milky cousin.
Of course, all chocolate originates from the cacao bean. However, the different processing methods of cacao churn our very different results. Cocoa, which is produced from cacao via processing and heat treatment, has been shown to be more impoverished nutritionally compared to its comparably unprocessed mother-bean (check out this wicked and friendly analysis by nourishmylife). This claim is rubbished by a number of folk – a main contention being that the definition around what constitutes ‘raw chocolate’ is spurious and unregulated. But further, a number point to the high risk of contamination of cacao that hasn’t been properly heat treated – one study cited frequently points to how naturally occurring ‘mycobiota’ in raw batches of cacao, produce potentially poisonous byproducts such as ‘aflatoxins (AFs) B1, B2, G1 and G2, cyclopiazonic acid (CPA ) and ochratoxin A (OTA)’ . There’s also a big hoo-haa about the contamination of cacao because of the insanitary environments it is produced and stored in. It seems a fair point that many are cashing in on a niche market without a proper architecture of scrutiny and regulation in place – but let’s hope that whatever does arise as an antidote, does not put undue or unfair expectations on constraints on already poor, overworked and undervalued producers.
It’s worth bearing in mind that exploitation and abuses inherent to the export and trade of chocolate were not unique to colonialism. Producers are still given an offensive deal on their labour and produce, with big corporations creaming off the real profit at the end of the process when it’s sold to privileged consumers (Check out ‘Stuffed & Starved’ by Raj Patel for a good analysis). A recent article on takepart explores the issue of child labor in chocolate production too – for example, there has been a 46% increase in the number of children working in ‘hazardous conditions [on cocoa farms] between 2009 and 2014 in the Ivory Coast alone’. Of course, the study was commissioned by the US Department of Labor – it’s unclear what the political motivations of that kind of inquiry are. Nevertheless, it says something important about an economy whereby parents are forced to put their children to work, because of the pittance they are paid for their toil.
Overall, cacao definitely has a colourful (dark?) history (and an uncertain future, given climate change) and disputes around its proper preparation and uses persist even today. If you indulge in cocoa or cacao, try and remember its complex and sacred legacy and to honour it as much as possible by putting your money where it counts; supporting ethical sources and products, that treat their workers and the environment that holds and supports them, with respect.
How to make some good stuff:
Here is the recipe for ‘medjool date and mulberry bites’ – you’ll have to wait for the ‘chocolate pecan fudge’, I’ll make that batch in the next few days.
- A pan of water.
- A heat-resistant bowl that fits snuggly inside the pan (ceramic or stainless steel).
- A wooden spoon.
- A blender.
- A tablespoon.
- A teaspoon.
- A measuring jug.
- A mold of some description to decant your mixture into.
- 125G of raw cacao butter.
- 4 TBSP of raw cacao powder.
- 1 TBSP of maca.
- 1 TBSP of lacuma (enirely optional – sweet enough).
- 6-9 medjool dates.
- Large TBSP of coconut oil.
- 1 TSP of vanilla essence.
- Handful of mulberries.
- 1/2 TSP of spirulina (optional – nutritional enough!).
- Cap full of maple syrup (entirely option – sweet enough!)
- Bring your water to a boil and turn down to simmer, nestle your bowl into the pan.
- Weigh out 125G of raw cacao butter and add to the bowl.
- Wait until the cacao butter has melted.
- Blend your dates into a smooth paste.
- Add the paste to the cacao butter.
- Add 4TBSP of raw cacao powder.
- Add 1TBSP of coconut oil.
- Stir the mixture slowly, pressing the mixture firmly to the side of the bowl so that the fruit slowly dissolves (don’t be tempted to blend – it disturbs the end product).
- Add 1TSP of vanilla essence.
- Add 1TBSP of Maca (if no lacuma, add 1/2TBSP more).
- Add 1TBSP of Lacuma (optional).
- Add 1/2TSP of spirulina (entirely optional – nutritious enough without).
- Add a small cap full of maple syrup (entirely optional – sweet enough without).
- Stir the mixture gently, still gently pressing out the fruit.
- Transfer the mixture to a measuring jug.
- Add 1 to 2 mulberries to each of the mold sections.
- Use a teaspoon to take the thicker mixture from the bottom of the jug and spread evenly across your mold.
- Top the rest up with the remaining liquified mixture.
- Refrigerate until solid.
Stay tuned for ‘chocolate pecan fudge’ =D
 Dillinger et al (2006). Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate. The American Society for Nutritional Sciences. 130:(8) 20575-20725
 Lippi, D. (2013). Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food. Nutrients. 5:(5) 1573-1584
 Sánchez-Hervás, M et al. (2008). Mycobiota and mycotoxin producing fungi from cocoa beans. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 125: 336 – 340