An old friend of mine recently went travelling in Guatemala.
He’s really into new age stuff like gong baths, yogic breathing and meditation.
We were at university together but to look at us now, we’re like chalk and cheese.
He still has long hair and dresses like a beatnik.
While I have almost no hair and dress in middle-aged man clothes.
Anyway, he was passing through our neck of the woods, so he and his girlfriend dropped by to spend the afternoon with me and Lara.
As a gift, he brought us one of his purchases from Guatemala.
Ceremonial grade cacao!
Now you might thing, “Ah, a nice bar of chocolate”.
But this stuff is far superior.
Cacao was highly prized by Mesoamerican civilizations like the Mayans, who used it in rituals and feasts, and the Aztecs, who used cacao beans as a form of currency.
The ceremonial cacao drink was made by fermenting and roasting the beans, then grinding them into a paste which was then mixed with water.
Far from a sweet drink, it was very bitter, often flavoured with spices.
The Spanish shipped it over to Europe in the 16th century, turning cacao into a luxury item for the wealth nobility, who sweetened it into the chocolate we know today.
Then it was the industrial revolution which allowed for the mass production of smoother, consistent, highly-sugared chocolate products.
So, what my mate had brought back from Central America was the old stuff.
Ceremonial grade cacao is minimally processed so that it preserves its natural compounds, including antioxidants and other phytonutrients.
It also contains theobromine, phenylethylamine and anandamide – these are mild stimulants, which can create an uplift in your mood and energy.
People today still hold cacao ceremonies where strong concentrations of the drink are prepared and drunk, creating powerful effects on the mind and body.
My friend is one of them – so he decided to show me how it’s done.
What happened in my cacao ceremony
First, we opened the cacao, which came in the form of a big, heavy rectangle block.
We grated it down until it was a pile of shavings and measured them out so that we would have 30grams each (this is a ‘moderate’ dose, apparently!)
Then we boiled up some water on the hob.
We added a small amount of water to the cacao and created a paste – (that took a bit of doing, to be honest, but we used a blender to shift it along a bit!)
Next, we added more water to turn it into a thick, dense sludgy drink.
And finally, we added honey, because it was incredibly bitter.
The result was a heady chocolaty brew – really dark and flavoursome.
Before we drank the cacao, my friend urged us to respect the ingredient and its origins, which involved us sitting together and giving thanks.
Then we drank it down while it was still warm.
The result was quite surprising…
Within a minute I genuinely felt a wonderful sense of warmth and wellbeing.
It was as if I had drunk a pint of beer.
And as we all started chatting and reminiscing for hours sat around our kitchen table, I noticed that I was much more energetic and lively. It was a genuinely lovely feeling.
The effects last around two hours. Like I say, they’re mild – and you could easily work or operate heavy machinery! In fact, I’d say you get more mental sharpness and focus, like after coffee but without the jitters.
This is because theobromine is more abundant in cacao than caffeine and has a milder effect on your central nervous system.
Therefore, it provides a gentler and more lasting boost of energy without the side effects of high caffeine intake.
More great benefits of cacao
As well as boosting your mental alertness and physical energy, cacao is very healthy for other reasons too.
- Cacao is a good source of magnesium, which is important for muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation.
- Cacao can improve cognitive function and may help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
- Cacao also has anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s good for the control of pain.
- Cacao’s abundant flavonoids stimulate the production of nitric oxide, which relax and dilate your blood vessels. This can help lower blood pressure and boost your circulation.
One word of caution, though….
Ceremonial grade cacao should be consumed in moderation – it’s not something you’d drink in such high strengths and concentration every day!
Anyway, I thought I’d share my experience with you!
I’m not exactly a new age type like my old friend, but I really value ancient folk wisdom and the healing power of food and drink, so our little ceremony was an eye-opener.