Article by Carrie Tyler, Rasamaya Founder

Chocolate is the food of the gods. What you may not know is that you can make your own hot chocolate nirvana easily from cacao beans. Best part is you get a two for one deal. If you save the shells you can make a chocolate tea which I swear is actual ambrosia.

Cacao has so many medicinal properties it would bore you to read them all. So here are just a few:

Cacao Craziness in Guatemala. Cacao to cacao!

Cacao Craziness in Guatemala. Cacao to cacao!

1. Oh baby, baby - Cacao is a mood enhancer and may help combat depression. It contains the bliss molecule anandamide which creates euphoria, as well as phenethylamine which triggers endorphins and opium-like neurochemicals that decrease pain and stress.  It is phenethylamine which naturally releases when we fall in love and during sex, which totally explains chocolate on Valentine's day (it doesn't explain chocolate Easter bunnies though - you're on your own with that one).  Cacao also helps modulate neurotransmitters keeping serotonin more available and swirling around in your blood. Keep in mind, this also means that too much cacao can make you loopy as proven in the picture at right during my visit to a Cacao Shaman in Guatemala.

2. Works that pump - Cacao has a strong effect on the heart due to its super high antioxidant levels which help decrease plaque in vessel walls, neutralize free radicals and reduce inflammation. Research shows it lowers blood pressure, and significantly increases circulation. Check with your doc if you are on blood pressure meds as cacao does thin blood.

3.Helps fight the bulge -  Cacao has been shown to help regulate blood sugar by reducing insulin resistance. It also boosts metabolism and decreases your stress hormones like cortisol which can contribute to fat.  Due to its high caffeine content, too much of a good thing can give you one fabulous case of diarrhea. This also means it has the  same stimulating properties of our favorite caffeine drug coffee, so use accordingly if you don't want to stay awake all night sitting on the porcelain throne.

4. Keeps your cells healthy and your skin glowing -  the same  polyphenol antioxidants that are in red wine and green tea are in surplus in raw cacao keeping your cells protected from oxidation and destruction. Plus it will give you rosy cheeks. Bonus. 

Homemade Hot Chocolate Recipe from Cacao Beans
1. Roast cacao beans (they will start to "pop" when they are ready). Shake the pan often as they burn.
2. Shell beans. Save shells to make tea later. 
3. Grind beans till a glossy paste forms (a coffee grinder works great for this).
4. Heat with cinnamon, cayenne, sugar, pepper, and milk of your choosing (almond, dairy, soy, coconut, etc).
5. Stir vigorously with whisk till cacao pieces mostly dissolve. Adjust recipe to taste.

To make Chocolate tea
1. Put shells in french press or other tea making device.
2. Pour hot water over the top and steep for 10 - 15mins
3. Add sugar or flavoring of choice

Want more? David Wolfe has a fabulous book called Naked Chocolate which dives into the amazing world of cacao. You may never want to eat anything else ever again.

NOURISHCarrie Tyler