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Raw Cacao and Why Ours Isn’t!

by The Sacred Earth Medicine Team on May 16, 2024

We often receive your questions about raw cacao. What is it? Is yours raw? Is it healthier if it is? It’s understandably a popular yet confusing topic. The raw definition can be blurry and sometimes cacao is labelled raw when it’s probably not!  So, we’ve taken a moment to break it all down for you.

Whether or not you’re a raw foodie, it’s useful to understand why raw labelling might not really mean raw – or the healthiest choice – when it comes to cacao.

Firstly, to answer your most common question: our cacao is not raw. And we prefer it that way! There are very few cacao offerings on the market that are truly raw. Let’s get into why.

The Raw Deal

Generally, a product is considered raw if processed at temperatures below 40°C - 50°C. But in Australia, we don’t have clear guidelines regulating raw labelling on cacao products. Even the specifics of the acceptable temperature limits vary from source to source. 

The cacao you find on the shelves of a grocery store whether labelled raw, or not, has gone through some degree of processing, no matter what. We often think of raw products as food accessible in its most natural state but to turn a cacao bean into cacao paste, there are processes required.

Even at the beginning of the production process when the seeds are fermented, the cacao is already moving away from its original raw state. As raw food advocate, David Wolf, explains in Naked Chocolate, the cacao bean sprouts during fermentation then succumbs to alcohol from the fermenting fruit. Cacao products labelled raw most likely have been fermented and come from seeds that are no longer viable.

Heat is Part of the Process

In a recent­ article, ethical grocery store Santos Organics proposed that raw cacao needs to be relabelled because it’s nearly impossible to accurately monitor temperatures during each step of the cacao production process. Fermentation, drying, roasting and grinding of the beans can all involve heating. And, most likely, the temperatures will rise above raw standards or, at least, will be difficult to regulate.

Cacao beans are fermented to reduce acidity and increase flavour. They ferment for days in wooden boxes where temperatures can rise above 45°C. Once fermented, the beans are laid out onto mats in the sun to dry. And again, it’s easy for temperatures in tropical, cacao-growing climates, to rise above 45°C in the full sun.

Then the beans are usually roasted (heating up once again). And finally, they’re ground into paste, often in large grinding machines where things can get toasty due to the high pressure used. Realistically, to keep cacao at consistently low temperatures during every step of production is a rare feat.

Why we Roast?

If a cacao product is labelled raw, it most likely has been “roasted” below 48°C or hasn’t been roasted at all. That’s why we’re cautious of raw-labelled cacao because those low temperatures may not be enough.

During fermentation bacteria gathers to break down sugars in the cacao. This is good for us because fermentation brings out the distinct chocolate taste of the bean and reduces acidity. But the bacteria accumulated can be harmful to humans. We believe roasting the cacao well above “raw” temperatures is important to kill any of these unwanted microorganisms.

Keith, the Chocolate Shaman (who we apprenticed with for many years), always operated on the guidance he received from the Cacao Deva, that the beans must be roasted at a high enough temperature to be safe from all those nasties. Ours is roasted at around 90°C – which does the job perfectly. Luckily, the active constituents and health-boosting antioxidants in cacao remain stable at high temperatures. So, don't worry about heating the cacao! All the health benefits will still reach you.

Is Boiling Necessary?

We’ve heard that the Mayans boiled their cacao for ten minutes before drinking it. We’re not completely sure why. But perhaps this was to purify the cacao and water from bacteria that otherwise would have made them sick.

In our opinion, boiling a cacao mix after the already boiled hot water is added, is not necessary, and it seems to affect the properties of the mix. Our cacao has already been roasted to kill off any bacteria, so we recommend avoiding any further boiling! Just add hot water to the cacao and stir or beat.

Healthy Ceremonial Cacao

We’re all for a raw approach if the foods are viable and safe when processed at low temperatures. We also believe in IxCacao’s recommendations that when cacao beans are processed into cacao paste, it is safer and healthier for you if we give it a generous roasting! Our cacao still maintains its scrumptious, organic, whole bean, ceremonial qualities after it’s heated. In fact, we believe this light toasting makes it tastier and safer for you to enjoy. Try some for yourself and let us know what you think!


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