Chocolate for Mind, Body, and Soul
Earlier this month was National Chocolate Day, and while I was reflecting on simple joys last week during National Simplicity Day, I thought of chocolate. It seems as though everyone has a strong opinion on chocolate: when you ask someone if they like chocolate and their answer is no, chocolate lovers (like myself) become flabbergasted and struggle to understand why someone wouldn’t like chocolate. And of course there is always the question - milk or dark and again strong opinions on the answer…
I recently purchased a package of ceremonial cacao partially because I remembered reading somewhere that it had health benefits that exceeded that of the normal chocolate bar and partially because I was curious about how it would taste, and rather hoped it might be similar to a cup of hot chocolate I had in Peru several years ago.
I was leading a retreat in Ollantaytambo, a small village in the sacred valley and pitstop for many en route to Machu Picchu, when I had the best cup of hot chocolate I think I’ll ever have in my lifetime. It was in a small little restaurant and the owner brought us the cups of chocolate in large, thick glass mugs. The chocolate was at the bottom of the mug underneath the hot milk and on the top was a generous dusting of cocoa. Or who knows, maybe it was cacao powder. It was served with a long spoon in which you could combine the chocolate and milk or even dip out a tasting of the chocolate on its own. The presentation was lovely, but the taste of the chocolate…divine. I’ll likely I’ll be trying to replicate this experience for years.
I have to admit that the ceremonial cacao is probably the closest I’ve come yet to measuring up to my hot chocolate event in Peru. My preference for chocolate has trended more and more to the higher percentages of cocoa in darker chocolates and while you can sweeten the ceremonial cacao to your liking, I found that I was happy to only add a little. The first time I tried it I simply mixed it with hot water and added a little maple syrup. It was good, but I have to admit that I liked it better with heated oat milk. I also had fun using it to make a chocolate avocado pudding - Yum!
While I was discovering how to use this new form of chocolate in my kitchen, I also thought it might be fun to delve into women’s relationship with chocolate and how we can make it a mindful practice. Chocolate is a great comfort food, but I was curious as to where this representation came from and why chocolate seems to be marketed and related to women, specifically.
The History of Women and Chocolate
Historically, women favored chocolate and consumed it more than men, especially because indulgences such as chocolate were restricted for women, so it was extra special when they could eat it and became associated with pleasure and indulgence. Because women’s interests were attributed to the development of gender roles, chocolate became something that was recognized as a popular interest to women—this long-standing notion is reinforced and represented in marketing, movies, television, etc.
Chocolate is delicious, but it also has a rich and diverse variety of meanings and benefits. So the next time we turn to chocolate after a bad day, we can ingest it with a focus on mindfulness, nourishment, and slow eating. Treating yourself with a comfort food in this way can be less about the chocolate and more about the meaning of the experience and what it provides for you.
Chocolate’s Health Benefits
As long as it’s consumed in moderation, chocolate is a wonderful sweet treat that also has health benefits, such as:
Nutrient value (higher in dark chocolate)
Improves blood flow and brain function
Contains protein and antioxidants
Can increase serotonin levels
These are physical benefits that can be had from indulging in chocolate, but there is more to the story. There are many parts to the cacao bean. You might have heard of both cacao and cocoa, and although they are similar there is a difference between the two. They both are made from fermented cacao beans, from which the cocoa butter has been removed, but cocoa is roasted at a high temperature and as a result maintains less nutritional value. Cacao powder goes through a different process at a much lower temperature that allows it to keep more of the nutrients.
Ceremonial cacao on the other hand, is typically made with a high grade of cacao beans. The full bean is fermented and lightly toasted or sun-dried. The husks are typically removed by hand and the entire bean is ground (including the fat which is removed when processing cocoa or cacao powder). The resulting product has a higher nutritional value and the retained fat helps balance the stimulating properties and facilitates absorption over a longer period of time.
As I mentioned previously, I recently used my newly acquired ceremonial cacao to make cacao avocado pudding and wanted to share the recipe with you here. Note that you can also make this using bars of roughly cut unsweetened chocolate. Keep reading for more on Cacao and mindfully consuming chocolate.
Cacao Avocado Pudding Recipe
¾ cup cacao chips
Two and a half medium-sized avocados
¾ cup of oatmilk
¼ cup and two tablespoons of coconut sugar
Pinch of salt
½ tsp vanilla
Berries to garnish
Warm the milk to just below a simmer. While your milk is heating, blend the avocados to a smooth, thick consistency using a blender or food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients to the avocados while the milk continues to heat, but don’t blend the ingredients. Once heated, add the hot milk to the bowl and wait a couple of moments food the cacao to soften. Then, process all of the ingredients until fully blended, smooth, and creamy. Top with your favorite type of berries and whipped cream (or coconut whipped cream).
Mindfulness During Indulgence
Ceremonial cacao is grown, harvested and produced with intention. Different cultures have used it in spiritual and medicinal practices for many years, and it has been used by a number of communities around the world for connecting with the energies of the heart and the people around you. Cacao ceremonies are often enjoyed in a group setting, music may be played and the cacao is prepared and consumed with intention.
Often when I prepare food, and especially with an indulgent treat such as the one made with the ceremonial cacao I purchased, I begin with the intention to make something that will both be nourishing and bring me joy in the process. I try not to rush, but rather slow down enough to savor the aromas, taste and taste again, and simply enjoy the process of experimenting and creating.
Slow eating chocolate can be a completely different experience from quick consumption. You may notice how smooth the surface of the chocolate is, how it melts on your tongue, what it smells like as you bring it to your mouth, and how a smaller bite tastes differently than a larger bite. You can observe how it feels going down your throat and absorb the feeling of gratitude for your body in sustaining you and repaying it with food you enjoy.
By using intention, you can self define your own relationship with chocolate, create your own practice with it or even buy ceremonial cacao and support the people whose ancestors worked to create, nourish, and expand these practices. By mindfully engaging with what you want and need, and while also expressing gratitude for all that nature provides, you may find greater joy in the process of caring for yourself. The next time you decide to consume a bit of chocolate, see if you can slow down and savor the experience as it nourishes your body and soul.