A few years after arriving in Spain, I began working in a tiny artisan Chocolate factory, in the white village of Mijas. There I worked as a chocolatier, making all kinds of chocolate treats by hand. I also held daily workshops teaching about the origins and uses of Cacao, as well as practical hands-on chocolate bar making.
This work was one of the main sources of inspiration for my skincare range, I love Chocolate, but I love even more the raw Cacao butter from which it is made. For skincare, it really is a supreme raw material.
Here I share with you a little of the history of Cacao and my own knowledge about practical applications.
HISTORY OF CACAO (Cacao Theobroma)
Cacao is a true superfood, found on a small evergreen tree named Cacao Theobroma, which is native to Central America. These days it is cultivated in many countries that are found in tropical regions around the equator. Its fruit contains seeds which are used to yield Cacao butter and Cacao powder, the ingredients that are used to make Chocolate. Cacao was brought to Europe when the first conquistadors returned from the Americas bearing exotic fruits and goods. The generic name is derived from Greek for "food of the gods"; from (theos), meaning "god," and (broma), meaning "food". It is also thought that the word “Chocolate is a Spanish adaption of the original Aztec word Chocolatl´.
Here I will be talking about the raw Cacao, from the humble Cacao bean and from which are produced the Cacao butter, which is a creamy white butter, solid at room temperature. (If you are lucky enough to find unrefined virgin butter it retains its natural aroma which smells like rich wonderful chocolate.) and Cacao powder, this very bitter tasting in its natural state.
To produce a bar of typical Chocolate as we know it today, the raw cacao ingredients are mixed with sugar to reduce bitterness, as well as milk, if producing milk chocolate, and various emulsifiers can also be found, such as soy lecithin. Other cheap substitutes regularly pop up on the ingredients list, such as Palm oil or other vegetable oils, which are much cheaper than Cacao butter, so are used as fillers, instead of the real stuff. So read the label guys!
When I talk about Cacao I really mean the raw ingredients; the Cacao butter and the Cacao powder. Although being a Chocolatier I really must say that I love all Chocolate, and a real bar of high-quality Chocolate with over 80% Cacao solids, even if it does contain sugar!
Eating Cacao and dark high-quality Chocolate offers great health benefits, Raw Cacao powder is loaded with Vitamins A, B12, B-complex, D and E and minerals including calcium, potassium and zinc, as well as high levels of Theobromine, which is the naturally occurring stimulant in chocolate, much alike caffeine in Coffee. Caffeine and Theobromine have skin firming effects and are often used to tighten the skin and reduce puffiness.
Cacao powder also contains plenty of antioxidants, it has even more than other well known antioxidant foods such as Red wine, green tea- Antioxidant-rich foods are a vital part of the diet because they help repair damage to your skin tissue.
Cacao butter is the fat of the Cacao bean, each bean comprises more than 50% butter. Cacao butter has a melting point of around 34–38°C rendering it a solid at room temperature. Cacao butter and Chocolate melt just at body temperature which is why it has such a unique silky texture and melts in the mouth or on contact with skin.
The moisturizing abilities of cocoa butter are frequently recommended for treatment of chapped or burned skin and lips, and as a daily moisturizer to prevent dry, itchy skin as well as the prevention of stretch marks. Cacao butter is recognised as a natural skin barrier which helps keep skin keep moisture in.
Let's just say that Cacao really is a true gift from mother nature, if only for the production of delicious Chocolate, but that's not all the human race has benefitted from this beautiful fruit. Do look out for Cacao theobroma on the ingredients lists of your skincare and cosmetics. Or just buy some Cacao butter raw and use directly over your skin like the ancients used to!