The obroma cacao, the food of the gods, has been used as food, medicine, and even currency for thousands of years.1 In its pure form, raw cacao is an amazing source of antioxidants, protecting us from free radicals, helping to keep us vibrant and healthy.2 Antioxidants may act to counteract the effects of exposure to stress, pollution, chemicals, and other unhealthy stuff.
Cacao is a wonderful source of magnesium (which many of us are deficient in) and one of the highest plant-based food sources of iron. It contains chemical compounds that increase our ability to focus and improves our memory, and it contains anandamide, the “bliss molecule,” which helps us to feel good, longer. It also contains phenylethylamine, “the love molecule,” which raise the level of endorphins in our brain, very similar to the chemical changes that make us feel on top of the world when we are falling in love.3
“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.”— Charles M. Schulz
But that doesn’t mean that we should all rush down to the local grocery and stock up on chocolate bars. Unfortunately, the typical chocolate bar or commercial hot cocoa mix has been highly processed, heated, alkalized, and contains sugars, preservatives, artificial flavors, and other undesirable additives. Usually, white sugar or corn syrup are the main ingredient, and both have a bad rap for very good reasons. Comparing organic raw cacao and most commercial chocolate is like comparing a perfectly ripe, fresh, organic, wild blueberry with the synthetic chemical blueberry flavoring in a jelly bean. The processing and the toxic additives are not digestible and are lacking in prana,aggravate all three doshas, builds ama, and contributes to disease. But don’t despair. With a little education, you can learn how to use this wonderful food to your benefit.
How to Choose the Best Chocolate for Health and Healing
Ayurveda teaches us to pay attention to the qualities of the food we eat, that anything can be medicine or a poison depending on how it is used or who is using it.
When I talk about pure chocolate, I am referring to raw cacao. Raw cacao has a very bitter taste (rasa), a pungent aftertaste (vipaka), is light and dry, and has a heating energy (virya). It is rajasic as it stimulates the mind and can be difficult to digest.
So, is it good for you? It depends on many things. Are you in balance and do you have a strong digestion? Do you have a dominance of vata, pitta, or kapha or an imbalance of one, two, or all three? (If you are new to Ayurveda, you can find out more about how this relates to you by taking this Ayurvedic Profile™ quiz.)
If you are balanced and happily healthy, think of chocolate as a spice. A little goes a long way. If you are out of balance, it is advisable not to consume chocolate or even raw cacao powder very often. If you are craving chocolate, try to discern if you are you craving the bitter taste or the sweet taste. The sweet taste associated with chocolate is not the cacao, but the added sugars. You might consider eating something naturally sweet, like a date or piece of fruit, and if cravings are particularly strong or frequent, take Sweet Ease instead.
When I was taking my oral exam in Ayurveda school, my teacher asked me to describe the qualities of chocolate. I explained that the bitterness increased vata but would decrease kapha. However, as chocolate (raw cacao) is usually combined with sugar, it would increase kapha and decrease vata and pitta. And as it contains a little caffeine it would increase both pitta and vata. Chocolate is rajasic, or stimulating, which would increase vata and pitta and decrease kapha. He paused, smiled sweetly, and then explained the prabhava of chocolate was magical, so therefore could be enjoyed by all.
“Look, there’s no metaphysics on earth like chocolate.”— Fernando Pessoa
Chocolate And The Doshas
In balance, kapha can benefit the most from cacao. The bitter and heating qualities are the opposite to kapha’s heavy and cool qualities. But this doesn’t mean that kaphas can run out and buy a boatload of chocolate. Someone who is balanced can consume small quantities, like a square of very dark chocolate once or twice a week.
If you are pitta, the heating and stimulating qualities of cacao can throw more heat on the fire. Caffeine increases the heat of pitta, which may contribute to pitta imbalances like heartburn, acne, and irritability.
And for those with more vata, well, sadly, chocolate is the least beneficial, as the light and dry aspects of cacao match the light and dryness of vata. And the caffeine in cacao will contribute to nervousness and anxiety. If you are vata and choose to eat chocolate, be sure to eat some with natural sweeteners in it. The heaviness of the sweetness will help balance the lightness of the cacao. Again, take it in very small amounts.
How to Choose Chocolate
For the greatest health benefits, buy chocolate that is certified as fair-trade and organic. Non-organic chocolate is heavily treated with toxic pesticides and fungicides which are big no-no’s for vibrant health. Seek out fair-trade, which ensures that farmers are paid a fair and stable price for their labors, and sustainably sourced ensures that both farmers and land have been treated with respect.
The most medicinal chocolate will be organic, raw, unprocessed cacao nibs. These are very powerful and very bitter. However, this is not always preferable for everyone. If you do not like the idea of chewing on a little bit of raw cacao nibs, look for chocolate that is above 70 percent concentration of dark chocolate. The higher the concentration, the more bitter, and the more nutritional value and healing effects it will have. But because of the bitterness of raw cacao or intense dark chocolate, consuming it with a meal and all its tastes will be more balancing. Remember that chocolate is a stimulant, and best eaten in moderation. Pay attention to how it makes you feel and that will help you decide when and if to eat it.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”— Hippocrates
How to Make Your Own Special Chocolate
By making your own chocolate, you have more control of the quality and can choose what to add to it to make it more balancing for you.
½–1 cup raw, organic cacao powder. If this is unavailable, use cocoa powder that has not been alkalized (Dutch processed).
¼ cup organic coconut oil
¼ cup almond or coconut milk
Sweetener to taste (either 30 drops liquid stevia, 3 tablespoons liquid sweetener like maple syrup, or ¼ cup date sugar are good options).
See below for optional stir-ins.
Over very low heat, or in a double boiler, melt the coconut oil and then stir in the sweetener and milk until combined. Whisk in the cacao powder until smooth.
You can stir in a small amount of the ingredients listed below to help balance the qualities of cacao for each dosha. The mixture should be thick enough that you can form it into a ball. Roll the balls either in more cacao powder, unsweetened shredded coconut, or sesame seeds. Store in the refrigerator.
Best Stir-Ins for Each Dosha
Vata would benefit from adding a bit of shredded coconut, chopped almonds, sesame seeds, grated orange peel, cardamom powder, or mineral salt. The best sweeteners would be honey, molasses, or barley malt.
Pitta may want to add shredded coconut, sunflower seeds, chopped dates, mint, or vanilla extract, and use maple syrup, date sugar, or stevia as the sweetener.
Kapha could add chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, ginger, cinnamon, clove, or nutmeg. Honey or stevia is the best sweetener.
Enjoy your chocolate in sacred little bites. Focus on its healing benefits and give it your full attention when imbibing. Let it be another part of the bitter-sweetness of life.
Janet Shivani Chase