Chocolate is delicious. Chocolate is mysterious. Chocolate is energetic. Chocolate is a faithful friend. Chocolate is a temptress and a genuine goddess. Chocolate is known to hold the power of casting simultaneous spells of both love and guilt. This unbalanced and emotional experience is merely the result of not spending the time to really get to know her. You may find yourself, as many people do, consistently struggling with the infamous guilty pleasures of this confusing, chocolate-induced relationship. If so, I have some sweetly succulent news for you.
I am delighted to share that there is a real, pure form of Chocolate, whom you may have never met before—one who has no hidden agendas, just sincere self-love and serendipity. She is a bit more illusive, and despite what you may believe, you cannot generally find her in the candy isles of most grocery stores. The purely real Chocolate goddess is a beautiful, health-promoting superfood. When eaten in moderation and given the respectful awareness she deserves, Chocolate holds a healing magic that far surpasses what most have experienced. Let’s work towards taking the guilt out of the relationship as I not only introduce you to the real Chocolate, but as I also enlighten your taste buds with this decadent dessert.
Unbeknownst to many people, chocolate actually comes from the tropical fruit tree Theobroma cacao, which alluringly translates to “food of the Gods”. On this godly tree grows the chocolate fruit known as “cacao” (ku-cow). Yes, I mean cacao, not cocoa. I’ll explain the difference in a minute. The cacao fruit is oval-shaped and contains cacao seeds (also called “beans”) which are purplish brown in color, bitter in taste, and about the size of an almond. The cacao beans are surrounded by a white, fleshy coating that tastes incredibly fruity and delicious. The dark cacao beans are what is sought after, however, and it is this part of the fruit that is processed into what we have come to know and love as chocolate. This process begins with a stage of fermentation, an act of curing the beans inside of the juicy, fleshy part of the fruit. The cacao beans are then dried and ground into a powder to be used in various chocolate creations. So here you are my friends, this raw form of cacao is Chocolate in her purest form—I think you’ll get along beautifully.
What is the difference between cacao and cocoa? Cacao and cocoa are both derived from the cacao fruit, yet the processes have a distinct difference which affects the overall nutritional quality. Both, however, are commonly referred to as “chocolate”.
»Cacao is the pure product of the fermentation and drying process. It is unheated, unprocessed, and doesn’t contain any harmful additives. It is generally sold in powder form but it can also be purchased as whole cacao beans or “nibs” (cacao bean pieces). When placing the words “chocolate” and “healthy” in the same sentence, this is where cacao takes the lead role because it maintains all of the beneficial raw nutrients and enzymes that are present in the original cacao fruit.
»Cocoa is the product created when the cacao beans are heated and processed, and in most cases, it contains unnecessary additives. Cocoa is what is used in most commercial chocolate products such as hot chocolate powders, candy bars, and other desserts. It is no longer in its raw state, it is commonly of poor quality, and it is generally highly diluted with other ingredients such as milk and sugar.
This is where the complicated relationship can start because chocolate in its raw form has a lot to offer in the way of healthy, energizing effects. Unfortunately though, most chocolate on the market is not only roasted (which decreases the nutrient and enzyme potential) but it is mixed together with harmful additives that detract from its natural healing properties. This brings up the concept of milk chocolate vs dark chocolate. Milk chocolate is the most common form of chocolate on the market, it is often made with low-quality cocoa, as opposed to cacao and it contains a large percentage of milk and sugar. The actual percentage of chocolate (again referring to cocoa) in readily available candy products is commonly as low as 10% whereas a real, cacao derived dark chocolate bar generally does not have milk additives, has way less sugar (or may even use alternative sweeteners) and is on average anywhere from 60-80% cacao. The recipe for these bountiful brownies not only uses organic, high-quality raw cacao powder, but it doesn’t include dairy products, soy, or refined sugar. High-vibe chocolate (raw cacao) always treats me so much better, here’s why.
What are the health benefits of raw cacao?
♦ Minerals such as magnesium– Raw cacao is full of health-promoting minerals. It contains incredibly high amounts of magnesium which is essential for heart, bone, and digestive health. This mineral is actually one of the most common dietary deficiencies, so it is important to be consciously consuming foods that contain it. Cacao also contains other essential minerals such as iron, potassium, chromium, calcium, zinc, and phosphorus.
♦ Vitamins– Cacao boasts an array of B-vitamins such as B1, B2, B5, B6 which are essential for general metabolic processes as well as containing Vitamins E and C.
♦ Antioxidants– Cacao has high amounts of strong antioxidants which work in the body to destroy free-radicals and decrease inflammation. Antioxidants are beneficial to overall health, reducing the risk of negative conditions and diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.
♦ Fiber and Enzymes– Raw cacao beans contain high amounts of dietary fiber as well as raw enzymes, aiding in digestion and improving colon health (which is where the secret to overall health begins!) read more about fiber and enzymes in this post
♦ Energizing compounds- Cacao contains small amounts of theobromine which is a natural energy booster, similar to caffeine but not as strong. It also contains naturally occurring chemicals called serotonin, phenethylamine, and anandamide. These chemicals are produced naturally in the body as well—serotonin is known to reduce stress levels, phenethylamine is produced when we are in a state of love, and anandamide is an endorphin produced when we are in a state of happiness or bliss.
I believe raw cacao to be a potent and powerful food source. It should be valued for its health promoting characteristics, yet in my chocolate-lovin’ opinion, cacao should be eaten in moderation with an awareness for the reaction that it has in your unique body. Overall, I am hoping that any confusion or guilt that may have been present before can now be replaced with a reverence for what this food has to offer along with a willingness to truly listen and learn from its potency. I also hope that the benefit is clear for using the superfood that is raw cacao over the processed counterpart, cocoa. Even if the cocoa powder is free of additives, it is still not in its pure, raw form and doesn’t provide the potential nutritional information outlined above. Holy cacao, indeed.
Now, let us take this new found chocolate-inspired love to heart as we create a delicious, guilt-free dessert with the help of a few other healthy elements. Raw desserts are one of my favorite things to create in the kitchen. They are simple, incredibly delicious, and they allow for the feeling of indulgence without taking a toll on my energy level and healthy lifestyle. Raw desserts are also a great way to start experiencing the wondrous world of raw foods or to introduce your friends to the health-promoting possibilities. This recipe involves a food processor and a handful of simple ingredients that are combined together to create blissful perfection.
The bulk of this recipe is made up of raw hazelnuts and Medjool dates. Hazelnuts (also known as “Filberts”) are one of my favorite nuts. They have such a complex flavor and, to no surprise, they boast nutritional benefits such as high amounts of antioxidants, calcium, vitamin E, folate, and fiber. Just as importantly, they taste incredible when paired with chocolate.
Because cacao has a bitter taste when eaten alone, it is generally combined with sugar. I don’t promote using refined sugar so the Medjool dates in this recipe fill the role of a sweetener. Dates add a perfect moist texture as well as amping up the nutritional profile with their availability of B-vitamins, copper, iron, potassium and magnesium.
So, my fellow chocolate-lovers, I present to you this raw, vegan, gluten & refined sugar free brownie recipe that is so. much. better. than I can say using words. I really can’t explain how good it is, only taste can tell the true tale.
- 2¼ cups raw hazelnuts (sprouted and dried if possible)
- 1½ cups (packed) Medjool dates, pitted - About 20 dates
- ½ cup raw cacao powder
- 3 T coconut butter (if unavailable, sub 2 T coconut oil)
- seeds of half vanilla bean
- scant ⅛ tsp sea salt
- ¼ cup coconut oil
- 3 T raw cacao powder
- 2 T liquid sweetener (honey, maple syrup, or coconut nectar)
- Place 2 cups of the hazelnuts into the food processor, processing until a very fine texture is achieved
- Using a double boiler on low or simply hot tap as a heat source, melt the coconut butter
- Add cacao powder, coconut butter, vanilla, and salt, pulsing a few times to combine with hazelnuts
- As the processor is running, drop in the dates a few at a time, allowing the final mixture to run for a minute or two to insure everything is well combined
- At this point the mixture should easily stick together into a ball when squeezed, if it doesn't, process in a few more dates
- Place mixture in large bowl
- Roughly chop remaining ¼ cup of hazelnuts and mix them into the batter by hand
- Line an 8X8 brownie pan with parchment paper and press the mixture evenly into the pan
- Drizzle the brownies with dark chocolate (optional, instructions below)
- Either freeze for 1 hour or refrigerate for 2-3 to let the brownies set
- Remove from pan and parchment paper, cutting into 9 squares (or more, they're decadently rich)
- Fall in Love!
- Using a double boiler on low, melt the coconut oil
- Whisk in the cacao powder and liquid sweetener
- Viola! Dark chocolate drizzle.
They will keep in the fridge for about a week or they can be frozen indefinitely
If the dates are really dry (Medjool dates are generally moist enough), feel free to soak them for a half an hour or so, straining the water before use
No guilty pleasures here, just some honest brownie goodness made with pure, unconditional love. Seriously, don’t wait too long to make these beauties, I think I can hear the Chocolate goddess calling your name.
With health & heart,