Cocoa is a tasty and very healthy addition to cakes and sweet desserts, as well as a chocolate base loved by many. It is known for its stimulating and health benefits.
Once extremely valuable, considered the drink of the gods, today it is readily available and loved for its special taste and aroma. How is cocoa produced and what are its health benefits?
Drink of the gods
Cocoa is made from the seeds of cocoa (Theobroma cacao) that grows in the rainforests of South and Central America. The fruits have a characteristic appearance: a thick red husk surrounds a whitish pulp with seeds.
The largest of them can reach a weight of up to half a kilogram and fifty centimeters in length. Today cocoa plantations are found in South and Central America, Africa and Asia. Since ancient times, the Maya and the Aztecs valued cocoa beans, considering them a drink worthy of the gods; used in their rituals, as well as for healing and stimulation.
They were so valuable that they served as a means of payment. Cocoa beans were brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, but did not spread until the late 19th century, when a method of defatting seeds was invented.
How cocoa is made
First, cocoa beans undergo a fermentation process. During it, significant changes occur that affect the acquisition of a characteristic aroma and color.
After they are dried and left to ripen. To get cocoa powder, the beans need to be roasted, defatted, crushed and then ground. During grinding, two important products are obtained: the pulp, which is used to make chocolate, and the powder, which is sold as ready-made cocoa.
Cocoa beans are a source of protein, fats, carbohydrates and a large amount of fiber (37g of fiber per 100g of cocoa). They contain a lot of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6), E and PP (niacin), a large amount of magnesium (499 mg / 100 g), iron, potassium, phosphorus and calcium.
Grains also contain substances that stimulate and improve concentration – theobromine and caffeine. They also contain polyphenols (from 10% to 20%), which are valued in the prevention of various diseases. 100g of cocoa contains about 230 kcal. The glycemic index of cocoa is low at 20.
Its disadvantages include the fact that it is a strong allergen when it comes to natural cocoa. The soluble form may also contain preservatives, emulsifiers, flavors, more calories and be less rich in health benefits.
Useful properties of cocoa
Protects the heart
Cocoa has a beneficial effect on the state of the cardiovascular system. The flavanols present in it improve the flexibility of blood vessels, inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, have an anticoagulant effect and lower blood pressure.
A four-week study of 100 people by Professor Malte Kelm of the University Hospital Düsseldorf shows that cocoa flavanols reduce the 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease by 22% and the 10-year risk of heart attack by 31%.
Protects against cancer
Antioxidants such as flavanols, procyanidins, para-coumaric acid, epicatechin, catechin exhibit anti-inflammatory properties by trapping free radicals and neutralizing them.
Thus, antioxidants protect cells from damage and the formation of tumors and the occurrence of chronic diseases (cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, etc.).
Thanks to the previously mentioned theobromine and caffeine, cocoa helps in mental work and study. Theobromine makes you feel energized and improves focus without raising your blood pressure.
Cocoa helps in stressful situations due to the presence of valeric acid, which relaxes and calms. It also contains tryptophan, which is necessary for the production of serotonin in the brain, called the hormone of happiness.
In addition, the phenylethylamine present here has an antidepressant effect. Cocoa beans are also an excellent source of magnesium (499mg/100g), which is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system and helps to calm down in stressful situations.
Protects against neurodegenerative diseases
The presence of catechins (cocoa flavonoids) means that cocoa can inhibit the development of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Research from the National Heart and Lung Institute shows that theobromine in cocoa is three times more effective than codeine (an antitussive) in treating persistent coughs.
This is because theobromine can block the action of sensory nerves, which suppresses the cough reflex.
Protects against kidney stones
Cocoa may be a valuable remedy against kidney stones. Theobromine present in cocoa beans inhibits the formation of deposits in the urinary tract and kidneys. A study by Felix Grace from the University of the Balearic Islands in Mallorca shows that a daily intake of 20g of chocolate prevents kidney stones.