Guide to bitter and non-bitter cocoa: properties and benefits
THE COCOA TREE
Theobroma Cacao, also known as the "cocoa tree", is a small evergreen tree between 4 and 8 meters tall, which belongs to the Malvaceae family and is native to the tropical regions of Mesoamerica. Its seeds are used to make chocolate liquor, cocoa solids, cocoa butter and chocolate.
To produce high-quality cocoa beans, the plant requires consistent temperatures and should not be exposed to direct sunlight. In actual fact, it is usually sheltered by a banana tree (a technique known as "sombramiento").
The cocoa pods (the fruits of the cocoa tree) grow directly from the trunk.
While the flowers bloom constantly, only one in every one hundred actually becomes a pod. The cocoa pod is ovoid, 15-20 cm long and generally contains about 40 grams' worth of cocoa beans. Inside, there is a white, sugary pulp.
Cocoa plantations bear fruit twice a year in different periods, depending on the region in which they are located (usually in March and October).
The types of cocoa bean vary in terms of aroma, colour and size, depending on their origin:
FORASTERO beans, grown mainly in equatorial Africa, have a bitter taste, dark colour and higher fat content. For these reasons, they are categorised as a 'strong' or basic variety. It is, by far, the most widespread variety.
CRIOLLO beans are the most prized, but also the most delicate. Grown in several Latin American countries, including Colombia, Peru and Venezuela, they are lighter in colour and have a more aromatic flavour with sweet hints of honey and red berries. This variety, the first to be imported to Europe, was discovered by the conquistadors.
In addition, there are hybrid varieties, such as the TRINITARIO bean, that have characteristics of both, offering a unique flavour combination.
PROPERTIES AND BENEFITS OF BITTER COCOA
Cocoa has many properties and is very beneficial for both the heart and brain. It's rich in proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, various minerals and B vitamins. Moreover, it contains substances that are very important for our physical and mental health, such as serotonin and theobromine.
Cocoa is effective at keeping spirits up, combats anxiety and helps to keep levels of concentration high. It has natural antioxidant properties, making it perfect for improving heart function, circulation and blood pressure.
With their anti-inflammatory effects, the active ingredients in cocoa help increase good cholesterol (HDL), while reducing levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides. For this reason, it's often used as an ingredient in anti-cellulite treatments!
Even for athletes, cocoa is very helpful because it boosts energy levels, accelerates metabolism, reduces fatigue and aids muscles after physical activity.
To benefit from these properties, it's important to consume cocoa in its purest form or eat dark chocolate with the highest percentage of cocoa possible.