Friday, February 3, 2012

cocoa the sexy spice

Scientific studies are now revealing that cocoa beans can impact the health of your heart. Perhaps this is why people have intuitively associated chocolate with love and pleasure.
I enjoy not only combining cocoa in traditional dessert recipes, but also in daily cooking. When I am blending spices, I consider the depth of flavor, bitterness and astringent effect that cocoa beans can give to the recipe. Cocoa is one of the ingredients that serve as a connector to the other spices. It really is like the heart beat of the blend. Cocoa without the sugar has a bitter astringent taste but it also has a nutty fat flavor, which gives weight and a certain consistency to the blend.

Cocoa is the fruit of the cocoa tree, a kapha type of tree that prefers to grow in a tropical climate. The tree is originally from Mexico, central and South America, but now it is also grown in Malaysia, West Africa, Sri Lanka and Java.

I remember while I was in the Amazon, I heard a story that in order for the cocoa tree to give fruits, in a delicate balance of natural events, it needs to be pollinated by one type of insect in the area where it is grown.
The fruit is also sensitive to water, so too much rain can damage this exotic and well-prized fruit.
Before cocoa went to Europe to be combined with sugar and milk, the aboriginal Amazonian people used the fruit as a tea, snack and as offering to the gods. Cocoa also was well known in Egypt, Greece, Rome, India and China. The Mayas, Aztecs and other Central American civilizations had been using cacao in their cooking, seasoning, and to honor their deities.

 One ceremonial drink that the Aztec used to prepare for their gods was tchacohoua, The preparation of this drink took many hours. The cacao pods were extracted from the pods, roasted, and reduced to powder using large stones. The powder was then added to boiling water, along with honey, ground maize, annatto and red chilies; this mixture was stirred over a fire until it became a frothy blend.

 Now in modern labs the coca is being upgraded as a possible medicine to lower cholesterol, reduce Ldl oxidation, lower blood pressure, for better circulation, for more flexible arteries, lower risk of heart disease, nourishing the grey matter of the brain, for mental energy, diabetes and even wrinkles!
Whether these health benefits are true, or not all, does not change the fact that mixing cocoa with a bit of sugar makes Chocolate the most hunted flavor on earth!
Cocoa in the form of chocolate has become the substance of choice to express love, affection, to ask for forgiveness and to induce pleasure.
We now find available on the market, really lovely organic cocoa in the form of nibs, blocks or in their natural stage, as beans. In their natural form they are bitter. To turn the pods into chocolate, the beans are fermented, dried and roasted. Then the shells are removed, revealing the nibs, which again are liquefied, resulting in chocolate liquor. The liquor is further refined into either cocoa solids or cocoa butter; the latter is the ingredient found in most chocolate confections. Chocolate get its strong astringent flavor, which is great for kapha constitutions, from the flavanoids in the cocoa. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the stronger the flavor.

So to tap into the healing aspect of cocoa, avoid the cocoa that is diluted with sugar and milk. Favor instead the pure dark chocolate or the cocoa powder. Don’t buy anything under 60% cocoa.

I enjoy putting cocoa powder in my blends to give that distinctive subtly sweet/bitter taste in dishes. Combining cocoa with garlic and onions gives the meat a lighter taste.  A study carried by the journal of food science, suggests that in order to retain the flavanols in the baking process, we can add baking soda to cakes and other desserts.

How to use cocoa every day:
Cocoa goes well with naturally sweet vegetables like carrots, sweet potato and beets.
Cocoa blends well with the following spices: orange peels, pink peppercorn, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, camu camu, lucuma, mustard and of course sweet chili.
Check your dosha chart to select the proper spice for you.

Here is one of my favorite sexy salad and vegetable dressings using cocoa:
5 tbsp of walnut oil
1 tbsp tamari
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp nutritional yeast
½ tsp cocoa power
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp sweet chili
½ tsp camu camu
½ tbsp vanilla
Mix all ingredients well and use over green salads, rice, beets, carrots or roasted sweet potatoes.

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