A few weeks ago, in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada, we visited La Candelaria- a beautiful, historic farm located in the misty hills above Minca. With organic avocados, bananas, lemons, coffee and cacao growing on the land, we quickly declared this place as farmland-paradise. After a 40 minute hike we were greeted with delicious homemade lemonade and incredible views, before learning all about where chocolate comes from (and tasting as much as possible of course!)
It’s a big statement, but we think it’s fair to say that chocolate is one of the best things on earth. It’s universally and historically loved; a perfect thing in both the best and worst of times in life.
But the more we’ve pursued our passion for healthy cooking in the past few years, the more our bodies have begun craving chocolate in its purest form. A processed chocolate bar may give you a quick sugar fix, but you miss out on all of the rich, satisfying, healthy goodness that pure cacao contains.
Unprocessed Cacao is literally full of antioxidants, iron, calcium, magnesium and much more, as well as boosting your serotonin and theobromine levels to make life a little happier. So chocolate is good for your health, but do your research and buy dark and organic whenever possible. The majority of Chocolate plantations use huge amounts of pesticides and fertilisers, as well as being incredibly unethical in how they treat their workers… so fair trade is always better if it’s on offer.
So, all chocolate starts its life growing from a Cacao tree. Each tree produces flowers and fruits, with each fruit pod containing 20-60 cacao beans. When you open up a pod, the beans are coated in a white, sticky and sweet liquid.
These beans are then fermented for around 7 days, in order to enhance taste and remove any residue. And then the beans are dried for a further 7 days. It's true that good things come to those who wait...
This is where two options happen: either the beans are roasted at high temperatures to produce Cocoa -or the beans are kept raw as Cacao. Raw cacao is a lot richer in nutrients than its processed partner, however Cocoa definitely still has benefits if you avoid products with added sugar.
At La Candelaria, the beans were slowly roasted on a low heat to preserve nutrients, and then ground them into a paste. This was then moulded into blocks to be used for hot chocolate, homemade chocolates or to add into smoothies. And the most important bit: it tasted incredible, we could have eaten it all afternoon!
Back in England, we love using raw cacao powder in smoothies, to make energy balls, mixed into porridge or even in our Mexican bean dish. We've got a couple of simple recipes coming soon to show how we love to use this amazing ingredient.
In the meanwhile, here’s some photos from our time in Minca; peaceful days amongst the trees, and star filled nights with lots of hot chocolate.
What's your favourite kind of chocolate? Have you ever tried using cacao powder?