What is Cocoa?
Most of the people in the world have at least heard of or even consumed cocoa.
Cocoa is the word commonly used to refer to the beans (cocoa beans), cocoa powder or the beverage that is produced from the cacao tree.
Cocoa is one of the world’s most favorite beverage.
Chocolate, which is a very popular confectionery, is also made from cocoa beans.
The cacao tree is native to the region around the Amazon forest in South America.
The plant was first domesticated by the ancient Olmeca Civilization which existed at around 1000BC.
It’s first uses, surprisingly were different from modern day uses.
It was initially used for spiritual purposes by this ancient civilization.
Later, cocoa was used for various purposes ranging from making an alcoholic drink with about a 5% alcohol content and even as a form of currency in the Aztec society.
A beverage called chocolate is reported to have been made from the seeds of the cacao tree in South American communities during the middle ages.
It is said that cocoa was regarded highly by the Aztec Society and was brewed for the elite.
The Spaniards took up this love for cocoa when they conquered parts of the South American continent.
Up until the 20th Century, cocoa was primarily used for medicinal purposes.
In fact, in the 1600s, chocolate was believed to have significant health benefits and was considered medicinal.
At some point in the 1700s, chocolate was listed under ’patients’ diet’ in hospitals showing just how therapeutic cocoa was perceived to be.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, history books show that chocolate was commonly used as part of prescribed treatment for cholera, tuberculosis and even yellow fever in America.
During the 20th century especially beginning from the 1930s, the focus shifted to the use of cocoa to make confectionaries, and that was the case throughout the 20th century.
Nevertheless, in the past 20 years, there has been growing interest in the health and medicinal uses of cocoa.
This has led to tons of medical studies and experiments that have given us a greater understanding of these health benefits.
Cocoa was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards who had conquered South America and found the plant.
By around the 17th century, cocoa had spread to other European countries and was very popular as a beverage.
The Europeans introduced the crop to other parts of the world, especially West Africa and the Oceanic nations, during the days of colonization. Unlike most other West African countries, in Ghana, the crop was introduced by a Ghanaian citizen called Tetteh Quarshie.
The cacao tree grows in a geographically limited zone spreading out about 20 degrees North and South of the Equator.
Currently, about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa production is from West African countries.
Varieties of Cocoa
Globally, there are three main varieties of cocoa. These are Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario.
Forastero makes up about 90% of the global cocoa production.
It is the cocoa that will most likely make your next bar of chocolate or your morning cocoa beverage.
Criollo is much rarer mainly because it is susceptible to pests and diseases hence low yields.
Due to the scarcity of the Criollo cocoa beans, it is considered a delicacy and is much pricier.
Venezuela is the leading producer of criollo.
Trinitario is a blend between the Forastero and the criollo.
It is of a higher quality than Forastero but much more disease resistant than Criollo.
It is however hardly grown in large scale and is mainly grown for scientific experiments.
It is also the youngest variety having been created just a few years back.
Production of Cocoa
Cocoa mainly grows in tropical areas. Unlike most other plants, cocoa trees can be harvested for several months throughout the year.
The pods do not ripen at the same time allowing for long harvesting seasons.
In some places, cocoa is collected throughout the year without any defined harvesting period.
During harvest season, harvesting is done 3 to 4 times a week.
An average person can manage about 650 cocoa pods a day.
Cocoa harvesting is extremely easy in comparison to other plants.
This is because the cocoa pods do not grow on branches as is the case with many fruits but rather the seeds grow directly from the stem.
Once harvested, the cocoa pods have to be split to remove the cocoa beans.
The seeds then can be used for heating and dry the cocoa beans.
The cocoa beans then undergo some processes such as fermentation and drying which make them ready for further roasting and processing into the final products.
This is however not done in most of the cocoa producing countries but other developed nations.
For instance, cocoa from West Africa is transported to countries such as the United States and the Netherlands for processing into the final products such as chocolate, cocoa butter, and cocoa the beverage.
World Cocoa Production
According to statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the global cocoa production has increased three-fold between the 1970s and this decade.
In the recent years, the global cocoa production is about 4.6 million tonnes biannually.
West African countries produce about 70% of the world’s cocoa.
Asia and Oceania produce about 20% of this global production.
The rest comes from several South American countries.
Ivory Coast and Ghana, two African nations and the largest cocoa producers in the world, harvest almost half of the world’s cocoa.
Production of Chocolate
Chocolate is one of the primary forms through which cocoa is consumed. The sweet taste and texture is a favorite for many people.
To make 2.2 pounds (1kg) of chocolate, you need about 400 cocoa beans which amount to about ten cocoa pods.
After the processing, drying, and roasting of the cocoa beans, they are made into chocolate liquor which is a thick and creamy paste.
The chocolate liquor is further processed by adding cocoa powder and other additives to make the chocolate that we eat today.
Alternatively, the cocoa beans can be transformed into a cocoa powder which makes the trendy cocoa beverage.
Cocoa butter is also made from chocolate liquor. Cocoa butter is used to make confectionery, soaps and other cosmetic products.
Slightly different chocolate flavors can be made by treating the cocoa powder with different chemicals especially alkali to reduce the acidity of the chocolate.
Roasting is also used to develop differently flavored chocolates that have a creamy and slightly creamy taste.
Consumption of Cocoa
Millions of tonnes of cocoa beans are produced and consumed annually. The cocoa beans are consumed in different ways depending on the preferences of the consumers.
Cocoa is usually made into the finished products in Western and European countries.
Europe and Russia for example, process about 38% of the cocoa and cocoa products that are sold in the world.
As developing countries continue to grow economically, the demand for cocoa beans is increasing rapidly.
An example is the continents of Asia and Africa that have seen massive growth in demand for cocoa and thus driven the global demand upwards.
Nutritional Value of Cocoa
Cocoa has minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, and calcium which are crucial to the body.
It also has high nutritional value, providing the body with carbohydrates, protein, and fibers.
Uses and Benefits of Cocoa
Ever since the first cocoa trees were domesticated, the plant has been used for different purposes.
Currently, cocoa is used mainly in the confectionary industry to make sweets and chocolates.
It is also being used to make the cocoa beverage.
There is a growing interest from many people in the health benefits of this plant.
It is reported that cocoa can help treat some chronic diseases and is also used for protection against these diseases.
From years of research, the following are the main benefits of cocoa to the human body that have been discovered;
Cocoa Benefits to the Heart
Cocoa has been found to contain over 700 compounds.
The most important ones are the antioxidant compounds.
Plants use antioxidants to protect themselves against some harmful factors such as excess heat.
When consumed by man, these antioxidants help to reduce premature aging and illnesses.
A particular group of antioxidant compounds called Polyphenols is known to boost cardiovascular health.
These antioxidants are also found in large quantities in cocoa.
Many people suffer from cardiovascular diseases, and many also die from these diseases.
The antioxidants in cocoa help prevent life-threatening conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and coronary illnesses by preventing the oxidation of the so-called bad cholesterol.
Some other plants such as tea and apples also contain some amounts of polyphenol.
However, cocoa has the largest polyphenol concentration of all these plants.
A researcher from the University of California, Davis, claims that according to the findings from their recent studies, cocoa and cocoa-products have specific compounds that are associated with better cardio-vascular performance.
As such, cocoa and its products can be considered to form part of a healthy diet.
Cocoa also prevents the formation of blood clots in the cardiovascular system which can lead to cardiac failure.
It does this by thinning the blood and preventing the clumping together of platelets which leads to blood clots.
This is about the same effect that aspirin has on your body.
By avoiding the formation of these blood clots, it also prevents other conditions such as thrombosis which is one of the leading causes of other cardiovascular severe medical diseases.
Cocoa which is rich in Flavonoids helps in reducing blood pressure and improving the blood vessels elasticity.
Flavonoids have a positive effect on the blood pressure. This maintains a healthy circulatory system.
Benefits of Cocoa for Mood and Well-Being
Have you ever asked yourself why a cup of warm cocoa or a bar of chocolate makes you feel relaxed?
Well, this is due to the production of serotonin and dopamine which is initiated by compounds found in cocoa.
Serotonin and dopamine are the feel-good chemicals in the human brain. Dopamine is the same chemical that the brain produces when consuming marijuana.
This, therefore, means that cocoa is an anti-depressant and can elevate one’s mood.
Cocoa has also been used for many centuries as an aphrodisiac.
It has been scientifically proven that cocoa can boost libido and even enhance sex.
It also triggers the emotions of love. This is believed to be because of the enhancing effects it has on the nervous system.
The serotonin and dopamine produced are also known to boost women’s moods during their periods.
It is believed that women are much more responsive to cocoa than men.
Anandamide, another compound found in cocoa, is a cannabinoid which is also found in marijuana.
This means that cocoa when taken regularly, can create a delightful sense of euphoria.
Cocoa improves the Health of Your Brain
The Flavanoid that is found in cocoa helps in maintaining a healthy mind.
A healthy mind by extension also means enhanced learning and memory capabilities.
These findings have advocated for the use of cocoa as a way of improving blood flow to the brains leading to enhanced mental capabilities and treatment of vascular conditions.
A cup of cocoa is a great way to stimulate your mind.
Cocoa Balances your Cholesterol Levels
Medical research found out that cocoa has positive effects on the glucose and cholesterol levels in the body.
A diet containing cocoa has been seen to reduce cholesterol, glucose and triglyceride levels in the body.
Cocoa also increases the amount of good cholesterol in the body.
Cocoa Treats Diabetes
Cocoa is known to be good at improving the insulin resistance and the metabolism of glucose.
This regulates the sugar levels in the body. Cocoa also contains the compound Proanthocyanidins which prevents the formation of cataracts usually brought about by diabetes.
A study showed that the antioxidant properties of cocoa protect the body against conditions such as diabetic nephrotoxicity which is a primary cause of diabetes mellitus, a severe renal disease.
This means that cocoa can treat diabetes and the symptoms associated with the disease.
The anti-oxidant properties help protect the body tissues and cells from damage.
Cocoa has been found to improve the functioning of the vascular system in people with diabetes under other medication.
Cocoa Relieves Bronchial Asthma
Xanthine and Theophylline which are found in cocoa help in relaxing and the opening of the bronchial tubes which are usually constructed in an asthma patient.
This allows for better airflow into the lungs and helps cure allergies such as asthma and shortness of breath thus relieving bronchial asthma.
Cocoa Speeds up Tissue Healing
From ancient times to modern day, extracts from cocoa have been used for their wound-healing properties.
They are used to manufacture natural medicine.
These extracts help by preventing the growth of various kinds of infections.
Cocoa also eradicates some harmful bacteria from the body.
Also Read: 13 Rose Oil Essential Uses and Benefits
Cocoa Obesity Management
Cocoa helps in regulating lipid metabolism in the body and reduces the synthesis and transportation of fatty acids.
This has been found to prevent obesity induced by a high-fat diet.
It also improves the production of heat in the liver and white adipose tissues, a process called thermogenesis.
That bar of chocolate may be the magic ingredient to your weight loss ambitions.
Cocoa Treats Constipation
Different studies have shown that the consumption of cocoa has a therapeutic effect in the treatment of bowel function diseases and chronic constipation.
A study that was conducted on children demonstrated that use of cocoa products rich in fibers brings about accelerated colonic, intestinal and rectal transit times meaning that consumed food stays in the body for shorter times.
Another study found out that regular cocoa consumption improves the bowel function by reducing the bowel movement times and increasing the frequency of bowel movements.
This, in turn, leads to a softer stool consistency without bringing any side effects such as gastrointestinal discomfort and abdominal pain.
Cocoa Prevents Cancer
Cocoa has been found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells without affecting the growth of other healthy body tissues.
The Flavonoids and Procyanidins have effects almost similar to chemotherapy but without the adverse side effects.
These property has been found to be highly beneficial in the treatment of colon cancer and prostate cancer.
Cocoa Treats Copper Deficiency
Copper is a crucial component of the human blood. Cocoa has been used to treat patients suffering from copper deficiency.
Copper significantly increases the hemoglobin level, copper, and leucocytes (White blood cells) in the blood.
Cocoa is thus recommended as a copper-rich food that should be consumed to maintain optimal levels of copper and prevention of copper deficiency diseases.
These diseases include anemia, neutropenia, and leukopenia (a white blood cells deficiency).
Also Read: 14 Guanabana Fruit Health Benefits
Cocoa for Reduction of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Do you feel tired and fatigued most times of the day?
Then cocoa could be a significant part of your diet to help reduce chronic fatigue syndrome.
Cocoa helps prevent oxidative stress in the neurological system which is the leading cause of chronic fatigue syndrome.
This is done by initiating the release of chemicals such as serotonin and anandamide that are neurotransmitters and bring about a sense of well-being.
Cocoa for Skin Care
Cocoa is also very useful in the maintenance of healthy skin.
The flavonoids found in cocoa have been found to decrease the effect of UV related conditions such as erythema and also reduce the scaling and roughness of the skin.
Cocoa also helps in improving the elasticity of the skin, skin density and the hydration of the skin. In short, cocoa gives you a soft and healthy skin.
A medical study demonstrated that a compound called epicatechin which is found in cocoa helps in enhancing the saturation of hemoglobin which in turn stimulates healthy blood flow in the skin cells and contributes to protection from harmful rays.
This is the reason why cocoa is used in making a lot of skin care products.
Cocoa for Treatment of Neurodegenerative Disorders
Cocoa can treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s due to the high flavonoid content.
It has been found that the different flavonoids including catechin and epicatechin work together to reduce oxidative stress on the brain.
This prevents damage or neurons and cells in the nervous system. It also prevents the toxicity of the mind.
Also Read: 25 Lemon Balm Uses and Tea Benefits
Cocoa for Prevention of Magnesium Deficiency
Cocoa products have been found to prevent the harmful effects that are associated with magnesium deficiency.
Cocoa has a relatively high magnesium content which supplements that of the body when consumed.
Cocoa, when consumed for extended periods of time, increases the magnesium content of the body and prevents diseases related to its deficiency.
Cocoa Used in the food and pharmaceutical industry
Cocoa products are used to make a wide range of products in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
Cocoa butter and cocoa powder are mixed with chocolate liquor.
Sugar, milk and other flavors for the production of different confectionaries.
Cocoa products are used to make confectionaries, beverages and cooking additives.
Cocoa butter is used in making several products in the cosmetics industry. It is mainly used to make skin care products.
The cocoa butter is also used to relieve hemorrhoids and by nursing women to soften the breasts.
How Much Cocoa Should You Consume?
No specific dosage has been set on the optimum amount of cocoa one should consume.
There are no reported cases of side effects or medical conditions from the consumption of cocoa.
Studies show that dark chocolate is much more nutritious and has more health benefits than white chocolate.
The Kuna which is an indigenous Indian tribe that is found off the Panama coast, are reported to consume about 40 cups of cocoa a week.
The tribe is amazingly healthy with a meager number of chronic patients.
Cocoa is one of the few wonder-plants we have ever discovered. Numerous health benefits are associated with cocoa consumption especially when dealing with the chronic diseases of modern times.
An extra cup of warm cocoa or another bar of chocolate will make you much healthier and improve your general well-being.