When you are fortunate enough to run across whole, raw cacao beans for sale, it’s good to know the many splendid products that have somehow ended up at your fingertips. For me, an ex-pat in Central America, this happens surprisingly often. With these beans in hand and a little experimenting, a tour at the Antigua Guatemala Choco Museo, and the correct wonderment/bewilderedness for enjoying cacao preparation, my world has expanded big time.
Let us begin by noting the wondrous benefits of cacao (in the correct forms) can bring to your body: they are full of vitamins and minerals like potassium and B vitamins, as well as superpowers that combat heart disease and cancer. Plus, it makes us happy, chemically. With these health benefits in mind, then, how about we explore a myriad of different and delicious ways to enjoy cacao, from the shell to the butter to the bean?
1. Cacao Tea
In order to transform the chocolate-y tastiness of cacao beans into chocolate, one must first roast the beans. This process is very easy and smells delightful. It only requires a skillet and a stovetop. Put the whole cacao beans into the heated pan, say on medium/medium-high, with no oil or margarine (just dry) and stir them around until the shells look very toasted and have stopped popping.
From this, the smell will likely be causing severe salivation; however, it’s good practice to allow the beans to cool for at least a few minutes. After that, suitors will need to shell the beans, peeling off the toasted outer layer, which is screaming to be discarded. Do not discard it! Save those toasted shells. They make fantastic cacao tea. All that it needs is a little hot water. Pour it over the shells, steep for a minute or two: cacao tea.
Not having cacao beans doesn’t mean you can’t try cacao tea from the shells, it just means it won’t be as fun or cheap. Nevertheless, here’s an organic cacao tea from the shells option.
2. Cacao Nibs
You know it. I know it. Cacao nibs are all the rage these days. But, is the bean a nib? Well, cacao nibs are the next step in this process to chocolate. They are the lazy cook’s chocolate: nibs are simply roasted beans, shelled, and broken up. No sugar. No mixing.
The reason this item is so popular is that it’s cacao in a minimally processed form and, thus, carries with it high nutritional content without all the bad stuff. Dark chocolate is healthy, sure, but nibs are more so. And, frankly, when peeling the roasted cacao beans, it’s nearly impossible to not sneak a few nib nibbles on the way to chocolate.
3. Mayan Hot Chocolate
Forget instant hot chocolate from re-sealable cans or individual packages. Once cacao beans have been roasted and peeled, the next step is to grind those beans into a paste. If this is done by hand, the old mortar and pestle, then it’s quite the task. (I suggest racing. Basically, the beans are ground until the paste gets a little lustrous.) After such a task, a refreshing beverage sure is nice.
Mayan hot chocolate is delightful and delightfully different from what most of us are accustomed to. While hot chocolate of the coffee shop era tends to be milky with whopping wallops of whipped cream and candy sprinkles, the Mayans did it a little differently. Try mixing the paste with water, spicy pepper, cardamom, aniseed, and vanilla. It’s another experience altogether.
Add a little raw sugar or another natural sweetener, and you’re in business!
4. Cacao Butter
This is a part of chocolate that is actually missing from a lot of the biggest brand names these days. Usually, cacao butter is extracted, creating the solid cacao fat on one side and a skinny powder on the other. Then, needing chocolate to be smooth and creamy, a product called lecithin, created from soy, is the binder for those bars, kisses, and morsels. The main reason for this is that cacao butter is actually fantastic for beauty products.
In order to make a rough cacao butter, one need only take the paste, or cacao liquor, used to make Mayan hot chocolate, and strain it through a cheesecloth or cotton fabric. The butter comes out hard and can be used for many things, especially skin related ointments and lotions. It’s also thought to be good for the heart and a preventative for cancer.
5. Rich, Dark Chocolate
In the end, if you have any of your roasted, shelled, and ground beans, add sugar and whatever flavors that interest you: ginger, hot peppers, mint, orange zests, coconut, coffee grounds, or whatever. Homemade chocolate is much richer than store-bought, and it’s possible to play with textures, shapes, and so on. It’s easy to make. Fun. And so healthy!
How do you enjoy your cacao beans?
Image source: Graham Crumb/Wikimedia Commons