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Cacao: the Queen of the Happy Hormones

Today we wanted to celebrate four of the well-known hormones that are naturally found in cacao and that are scientifically proven help to regulate our mood, promote happiness and pleasure. We’ve detailed each of these bad boys in the images below.

There are lots of ways that we can naturally produce these happy hormones.

Dopamine – “the feel good hormone” is naturally stimulated by longer sleep, exercise and sunshine”.

Serotonin – “the happy chemical” can be boosted when we eat foods high in tryptophan (e.g., nuts & seeds, fruits) combined with carbohydrates (e.g., whole wheat bread and oats), when we meditate, and when we receive massage.

Endorphins – “the natural pain reliever” are also stimulated through exercise, as well as when we have sex, laugh and enjoy music.

Oxytocin – “the love hormone” can be increased when we cuddle our pets, engage in long hugs, intake vitamin C and socialise.

Cacao helps us to produce all FOUR.

You could say cacao’s the same as getting the benefits of petting your dog, feeling the high of a run, enjoying the heat of the sun and receiving a relaxing massage all at once. 😊

We never knew any of the science when we first fell in love with cacao, but we find the science fascinating as it supports that which we intuitively knew and experienced. Love when that happens!   

In the same breath, cacao is generally contraindicated with antidepressants, especially MAOIs and some SSRIs. It may result in a really bad headache, or worse, cause the development of serotonin syndrome which can have severe implications. Cacao paste contains tryptophan and MAO inhibitors that may cause a synergistic intensification when combined with antidepressants. We aren’t the experts in this field and 100% recommend you speak to your trusted health care professional before consuming cacao if you are taking anti-depressants.

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There’s a lot of hype about the different types of cacao beans (similar to the same sort of hype in the coffee biz). Bean type has a significant impact on taste for sure, but perhaps the most important part in developing flavour is actually in the post-harvest fermentation process.

(Ever noticed that some of the most delicious and simultaneously healthy food stuffs are naturally fermented? Kombucha, kimchi, miso, kefir yoghurt… I digress).

The cacao beans are harvested, removed from the colourful pod and then are naturally fermented. The fermentation of the beans is critical as it triggers the chemical changes that develop the unique chocolatey aroma & flavour that we know and love. Without fermentation cacao can be quite bitter and astringent.

The fermentation process takes approx  5-7 days (depending on the process adopted by the artisan, the environment and the particular batch). It’s a labour intensive process, a lot of love & care is required at this stage to ensure that the beans ferment just right. Just by way of comparison, I tried to make sauerkraut last year and even tending to my small jar was pretty labour intensive – daily pressing to ensure the cabbage is submerged under the brine just right, getting the seasonings just so… let’s just say I’ve decided to support local sauerkraut producers from now on.

Some big companies don’t even both with fermentation. For them, profit margins are the key driver and the fermentation process is expensive, so they mask the missing flavour profile by subjecting the cacao to heavy roasting and then add a whole bunch of artificial preservatives, vegetable oils, flavours and sugar.

Cheap and nasty isn’t our thing. We’ve been super selective and only partnered with farmers who grow and process their cacao to the highest quality – this includes having a legit and well managed fermentation process. It’s such a different buzz connecting to a food that’s been crafted as a labour of love as opposed to a commodity produced to make shareholders money.

Thanks again to Ubud Raw for the gorgeous picture. These guys are fermentation experts and we are so happy to partner with them.