your health, raw chocolate has no place in your diet.
Yet after I made the plunge myself, I kept hearing it touted as a
superfood and the height of nutrition.
I was baffled.
I'd been something of a cacao connoisseur in my cooked vegan days, and
I thought I knew chocolate production quite well. All chocolate is
produced via fermentation and/or heat, I was sure, and therefore not
I may have loved chocolate before, but I knew it wasn't good for me in
the long run, so I mentally bid it farewell with all the rest of my
cooked favorites via my strategy for addressing cravings.
But now raw gurus are touting raw chocolate as a healthy superfood.
Could raw chocolate be real? I decided to look into it.
Raw Cacao Nibs, Beans
and The Cacao Tree
The fruit of the evergreen cacao tree, native
to Mexico and South America, is the 6 to 12 inch cacao pod.
They ripen to yellowish color, and when you open one it's immediately
clear what part you should be eating. There's a delicious white pulp
surrounding 20 or more seeds in each pod.
"This is better than chocolate," I told my friend as we devoured the
pulp of a cacao pod some years ago.
Yet those seeds, which are usually called beans, hog all the attention
because they they're made into chocolate. It's a bit strange, like
opening up a jackfruit or avocado and ignoring the flesh, instead
focusing your attention on the tasteless, unchewable seed at their
What's in Cacao beans? Lots of stuff you don't want in your body. There
are stimulants like caffeine, theobromine, and theophyllin, and toxins
like tannin, oxalic acid (which is known to cause kidney stones (1),
cannabinoids, and aflatoxins (which are known to stunt the growth of
children and hamper the absorption of nutrients even in adults) (2).
Raw Chocolate Production
Good for us or not, man has been producing
chocolate for a long time. The Maya believed Quetzalcoatl gave cacao to
the them after humans were created from maize. They celebrated an
annual festival in April to honor the cacao god, Ek Chuah.
Several chocolate drinks are described in ancient texts for medical,
ceremonial, and culinary uses. Some contain corn, vanilla, peanut
butter and honey. Cacoa beans were so highly valued that they were used
Today the world is perhaps even more obsessed with chocolate, and
production has increased tremendously.
Cocoa production increased from 1.5 million tons in 1983-1984 to 3.5
million tons in 2003-2004 (3).
Now, through some bizarre twist, raw foodists, who we could generally
call health conscious, are embracing it too.
Raw Chocolate: Come Get Your Enervation
Chocolate is popular with raw
foodists and SAD eaters for the same reason that a coffee habit is so
hard to shake. People like the high they get off of caffeine and other
psychoactive stimulant drugs contained in chocolate (4).
The body wants to get rid of these substances quickly, and it floods
you with adrenaline. Heart rate increases, the blood pumps, and you
feel very alert and alive.
This high is not without a cost, however, and rather than providing
energy, caffeine essentially steals from tomorrow's energy for a boost
today. This is why after the caffeine is out of your system you feel so
tired. Your adrenals have been run down a bit, and after long periods
of use you can really be in rough shape.
Can Chocolate Even Be Raw?
Although I haven't tried to make it myself, I've
talked to a lot of people who assure me it's impossible to make raw.
It's almost always heated, and always fermented.
In his blog, "The Chocolate Life," chocolate maker Koa Kahili takes on
the idea of raw chocolate.
"A lot of people have
been asking if Garden Island Chocolate is Raw. My answer is, "there is
no such thing as Raw chocolate," he says. "Raw food is all food cooked
below 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), as defined by
Wikipedia. The fermentation process in cacao generates temperatures as
high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit...In conclusion, if "Raw" chocolate
tastes like chocolate, chances are it's not "Raw" (5).
Even getting fermented but not cooked chocolate is still not a health
food. We disregard rotten grapes, but wineries use them for the alcohol
that makes us drunk. Fermented cacao is just as decayed.
Raw food advocate Dr. Douglas Graham agrees:
"First, there is no raw chocolate being sold,
anywhere," he said. "In order to taste like chocolate, cacao beans must
be heated. I have lived in the tropics and have tried to bring out the
chocolate taste in other ways, it simply cannot be done. There is no
such thing as raw chocolate. Even the chocolate that is fermented so
said to be raw is eventually heated, and high enough to be cooked."
"I am sure you know that
heating the proteins in chocolate denatures them and causes them to
become carcinogenic. I assume you are aware that heating the
carbohydrates caramelizes them, adversely affecting their GI rating and
also creating carcinogens.
...The double bonds of
the fats in chocolate become triple bonds under the influence of heat
making them physiologically nonviable for humans and adversely
impacting upon our cholesterol levels."
..."So, chocolate is not
raw, is definitely not health food, and cannot be considered a
superfood. There is nothing about marketing chocolate that can be
considered a positive except for the possible bottom line profits that
it may offer."(6)
Raw Chocolate: Heating And Fermenting
Below 118 degrees?
But could the about voices be wrong?
I recently spoke with Vanessa Barg of Gnossis
Chocolate, a raw chocolate company.
She agreed that much of chocolate marked raw is
indeed not raw and that there is a lot of misinformation out there, but
assured me that it's entirely possible to make raw chocolate.
She's personally supervised production of her
chocolate at a factory near Lyons, France to be assured that everything
is on the up and up.
She writes of the experience:
"I chose cacao
beans that were certified organic: fermented and dried under 118
degrees. Then I personally dehydrated the beans in a conventional
chocolate roaster and charted the temperature every sixty seconds to
verify raw integrity. A winnower then cracked the beans into little
pieces (nibs) without heat. We then put the nibs into a conventional
chocolate grinder and watched the thermostat to confirm that it never
reached 118 degrees. The result was a paste that I can personally
attest has Raw Integrity."
While Vanessa and I do not agree about the merits
of chocolate it's clear to me that she's passionate about creating
truly raw products and being up front with people. I appreciate that
and am willing to believe that she sells a truly raw product by the
standard definition of heated below 118 degrees.
Raw Chocolate: Raw Does Not
I updated this article in include Vanessa's point of view because I
believe she's telling the truth, and I try to give the most accurate
1) Morozumi M,
Hossain RZ, Yamakawa KI, Hokama S, Nishijima S, Oshiro Y, Uchida A,
Sugaya K, Ogawa Y (2006). "Gastrointestinal oxalic acid absorption in
calcium-treated rats". Urol Res 34: 168. doi:10.1007/s00240-006-0035-7.
PMID 16444511. 2) Abbas, Hamed K.
(2005). Aflatoxin and Food Safety, CRC Press. ISBN 0824723031. 3) Coe, Sophie D.;
and Michael D. Coe (1996). The True History of Chocolate. London:
Thames & Hudson. 4) Maughan, RJ;
Griffin J (2003). "Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review.". J
Human Nutrition Dietetics 16: 411–20. 5) The Chocolate
Life Blog, November 4, 2008,:
http://www.thechocolatelife.com/profiles/blogs/is-chocolate-raw 6) VegSource
Message Board, June 5, 2005, "Chocolate":
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