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Even though both Ceremonial Cacao and Chocolate are made from the same basic ingredient; Cacao, they are absolutely not the same thing!

There are some very important key differences in the way that chocolate and ceremonial cacao are grown, harvested, processed and used which result in different flavour profiles, textures, quality and it’s health benefits. But not just this, also in terms of their cultural and ethical implications, chocolate and ceremonial cacao are worlds apart.

Let’s dive a bit deeper into understanding the differences between the two:

key differences:

QUALITY

Both Ceremonial Cacao and chocolate come from the cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao). However, not all Theobroma cacao is the same.

There are 3 main variaties of Theobroma cacao:

  1. Criollo : This name means “native” and is an ancient high quality, upper Amazonian, pure strain of cacao
  2. Forestero : This name means “foreign.” These beans are commonly referred to as bulk cocoa. They are the most widely produced variety in the world, contributing to almost 80 -85% of the world cacao produce which is mainly in West- Africa today
  3. Trinitario : This name comes from cacao breeding activities originally developed in Trinidad and Tobago, where significant research into cacao genetics, cultivation, and processing has been conducted. The term “Trinitario” loosely refers to hybridized Criollo and “Forastero” cacao genetics

Chocolate is generally made from the low quality cacao variety Forestero, whilst ceremonial cacao is usually from the ancient high “Criollo” variety

One of the main differences between ceremonial cacao and chocolate is the way they are grown and harvested. Ceremonial cacao is typically grown in small scale by farmers in indigenous communities, using ancient, traditional and sustainable farming methods. The farmers are paid above the market value for their sacred cacao beans, which allows them to support their families and communities.

Chocolate, on the other hand, is often produced in larger scale, industrial farms, which may use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and may not be grown using sustainable traditional methods. Additionally, the cacao farmers who grow the cacao beans for chocolate often receive low prices for their beans, which may not be enough to support their families and communities

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Criollo Cacao beans from Belize

SOIL

An other very important difference is the soil where the cacao grows. Cacao thrives in biodiversity and is the happiest in the shades of other big trees. Ceremonial cacao is always organically grown on the “sacred” lands of indigenous nations that honour cacao as a potent and sacred plant medicine. They live in perfect harmony with nature and aks permission to the spirit world before harvesting from their sacred lands.

The cacao production for chocolate is laking the spiritual aspects and is grown in monoculture and spread with pesticides to keep yield high all year round.

Cacao farmers
Cacao getting ready for fermentation

ETHNICAL

Unfortunately un-ethnical practises on cacao farming or still being carried out. This is badly monitored in the mass chocolate industry.

Ceremonial cacao on the other hand is grown, harvested and processed with lots of honour and respect for community and Mother Nature herself. The cacao farmers are getting paid above market value for their cacao and reinvest back into their community to sustain their indigenous lifestyle.

HARVESTING

The cacao pods are harvested from the cacao tree. For ceremonial cacao this process is done by hand. The outer shell is then removed to reveal the cacao beans inside. These cacao beans or seeds are then fermented for several days, during which time the natural enzymes in the cacao break down the natural cacao butter and create the chocolate flavour.

The fermented cacao beans are then dried in a drying machine. However for ceremonial cacao these cacao beans will be dried in natural sun.

Even though both chocolate and ceremonial cacao are made from cacao beans, how they are processed is different and they have different looks flavour profiles and health benefits.

Belize Cacao
Small cacao farm in Belize – cacao beans sundrying

The main differences in the processing stages of making chocolate and ceremonial cacao are:

GRINDING

Ceremonial cacao is made by grinding the whole cacao beans and may include a small amount of spices or herbs. To create the beverage the cacao is mixed with water or milk, which can be served hot or cold. Nothing more, nothing less

Chocolate on the other hand, is made by grinding the cacao beans in extremly large scales into a paste called chocolate liquor, which is then mixed with processed cocoa butter, refined sugar and additives.

To create the finishing sweet and glossy product of; chocolate, the chocolate liquor get even further processed:

CONGING:

Chocolate is often subjected to a process called conching, which involves agitating the chocolate mixture for a long period of time, to create a smooth, uniform texture. Ceremonial cacao is not subjected to conching and retains a more grainy texture.

TEMPERING:

Chocolate is typically tempered, which involves heating and cooling the chocolate to specific temperatures in order to stabilize the cocoa butter and create a smooth, shiny finish. Ceremonial cacao is not tempered and does not have a smooth, shiny finish.

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Chocolate & cacao beans

While both chocolate and ceremonial cacao are made from cacao beans, they are processed differently and have different flavoUr profiles, additives, and uses:

FLAVOUR & AROMA’S:

Chocolate is typically sweet and has a rich, creamy flavor and aroma, due to the addition of sugar and cocoa butter.

Ceremonial cacao is typically unsweetened and has a more bitter, earthy flavor and aroma. However this depands greatly on the type of cacao being used and which are it is grown. As cacaoo flourishes in biodiversity. the soil around the tree absorbs many diffrent aromas from its sourandings. Generally Criollo which is the most native cacao variarty is richer in its aroma’s

ADDITIVES:

Chocolate may contain a variety of additives, such as milk, sugar, flavors, and emulsifiers, which are added to create different flavors and textures.

Ceremonial cacao, on the other hand, is made only with cacao and water or plant milk, and may include a small amount of spices for extra health benefits.

USAGE

Another difference is the way ceremonial cacao and chocolate are consumed.

Ceremonial cacao is often consumed in a ceremonial or ritual context, which can give it a deeper spiritual and cultural significance. It is used in many indigenous cultures for its spiritual and energetic properties and used to enhance optimal health and wellbeing (physically, emotionally and spiritually)

Chocolate on the other hand is a common commercial product, typically consumed as a unhealthy treat or a snack.

Both ceremonial cacao and chocolate are made from cacao beans, which are a source of a number of health-promoting compounds, including antioxidants, flavonoids, and minerals. However, there are some key differences in the health benefits of ceremonial cacao and chocolate, due to differences in the way that they are processed and the ingredients that are used.

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shredded chocolate

Here are the key differences in the health benefits of ceremonial cacao and chocolate:

Antioxidants:

Both ceremonial cacao and chocolate contain antioxidants, which are compounds that help to neutralize harmful free radicals in the body and protect cells from damage. However, ceremonial cacao is typically made from unprocessed cacao beans, which means that it retains a higher concentration of antioxidants compared to chocolate, which is made from processed cocoa beans.

Flavonoids:

Both ceremonial cacao and chocolate contain flavonoids, which are plant compounds that have a number of health benefits, including reducing inflammation and improving cardiovascular health. Again, ceremonial cacao is likely to have a higher concentration of flavonoids than chocolate, due to the fact that it is made from unprocessed cacao beans.

Sugar content:

Chocolate typically contains added sugar, which can contribute to a number of health problems when consumed in excess, including obesity, diabetes, and dental cavities.

Ceremonial cacao, on the other hand, is unsweetened and does not contain added sugar.

Caffeine content:

Both ceremonial cacao and chocolate contain caffeine, which is a stimulant that can affect energy levels and alertness.

One of the main differences between ceremonial cacao and chocolate is the amount of caffeine they contain. Ceremonial cacao is made from pure, minimally processed cacao beans, which typically contain less caffeine than chocolate. Chocolate, on the other hand, is made by adding cocoa butter, sugar, and other ingredients to ground cacao, which can increase the caffeine content.

Ceremonial cacao usually contains around 0.1% caffeine, and a serving of ceremonial cacao is around 50-100grams, which is equivalent to the caffeine content in a cup of decaffeinated coffee, while chocolate can have caffeine levels of around 0.2-0.3% which may vary by the type of chocolate, dark chocolate can have more caffeine than milk chocolate.

Some studies also found that consuming ceremonial cacao compared to chocolate can lead to different effects on energy levels and mental states, with ceremonial cacao having a more calming and grounding effect.

cacao disc 100 gram
Ceremonial Cacao – Herbal Cacao 100 gram disc

CONCLUSION:

Even though both made from cacao they are not the same. There are big differences in n the way that chocolate and ceremonial cacao are grown, harvested, processed and used which result in different flavour profiles, textures, quality and it’s health benefits. But not just this, also in terms of their cultural and ethical implications, chocolate and ceremonial cacao are worlds apart. Ceremonial cacao is generally considered to be healthier than chocolate, due to the fact that ceremonial cacao is made from unprocessed cacao beans and does not contain added sugar. This means that ceremonial cacao is likely to have a higher concentration of antioxidants and flavonoids than chocolate, which can provide a number of health benefits, including reducing inflammation and improving cardiovascular health.

It is important to keep in mind that not all ceremonial cacao and chocolate are the same and there is a lot of variation in the quality of the product.

It is also important to note that the ethical implications of chocolate production can vary greatly, and there are many chocolate producers who strive to make their products in an ethical and sustainable manner. Many chocolate producer make sure that the cacao farmers receive a fair prices for their cacao, use environmentally sustainable practices and provide better working condition for the farmers.

When it comes to choosing between ceremonial cacao and chocolate, it is important to be informed about where the cacao beans used in the product are sourced, and how the farmers who grew the cacao were treated. Supporting ethical and sustainable producers can help to ensure that the farmers and communities that grow the cacao are treated fairly and can contribute to preserving traditional practices and cultures.

Thank you for reading my blog post in our Herbal Cacao Journal. 

Feel free to share this post with anyone who you might think can benefit from reading this.

Sharon Fernie (Founder of Herbal Cacao)

With love, 

Sharon Fernie, Founder Herbal Cacao

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