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Cacao chocolate
Photograph: Tetiana Bykovets

Food Ticket: eat your way to Peru with cacao

From bean to bar

Time Out Hong Kong in partnership with Trade Commission of Peru

They say chocolate is ground from the beans of happiness, but it’s actually ground from the seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree. This tree is native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America, and its colourful pods are filled with large cacao seeds or beans. The use of cacao dates back a thousand years to the ancient Americas, where it was used in ceremonies of importance by the Maya, usually drunk as a hot beverage with spices. 

Cacao is high in calcium and magnesium. It also triggers neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, phenylethylamine – that are associated with elevating mood and mental clarity. Its high nutritional value makes it one of Peru’s proud superfoods and exports.

RECOMMENDED: Eat your way to Peru with quinoa.

Reading between the lines: cacao vs. cocoa
Photograph: Etty Fidele

Reading between the lines: cacao vs. cocoa

You’ve probably noticed that the ingredients in chocolate vary between containing cocoa and cacao on the packaging. Though they are derived from the same plant and sound similar, there are differences between the two.

Cacao refers to the beans that have not been roasted, while cocoa refers to beans that have been roasted. Cacao in its purest form has an intense bitter taste. Cocoa is roasted at a much higher temperature and typically supplemented with additives (dairy, sugar, artificial flavours) to cut the bitterness. After cacao has been heated at high temperatures, many of its nutrients degrade. A product that is labeled cacao, is the raw bean, and is usually minimally processed to maintain all of the impressive nutrients that make it a superfood. 

Photograph: Courtesy Casa Cacao

Cacao is easy to incorporate into your daily diet and can be used to make pudding, ice cream, smoothies, or added to oatmeal, granola, baking, and hot or iced drinks. It can be purchased in many forms including chocolate, powder, nibs, paste, and butter.

If you’re looking for a true 'tree to bar' chocolate, Cacaosuyo – which received gold at the 2020-2021 International Chocolate Awards for plain/origin dark category –  is a Peruvian chocolate maker with 100% traceability, paying careful attention to cacao at all stages from harvest to fermentation and processing.

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