Health & Wellness

Ceremonial Cacao: What It Is and How to Use It

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There’s no denying that many of us are involved in a love affair with chocolate. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, in a truffle or a flourless chocolate cake, there’s something about it that makes us feel happy. And while enjoying its sheer yumminess can fill you with a sense of joy, drinking chocolate in its purest form could turn the experience into something truly ethereal.

At least that’s what people who have participated in Cacao Ceremonies say. Not really sure what that is? We’re here to tell you!

Although there are no set guidelines, a Cacao Ceremony is the mindful practice of drinking ultra-pure chocolate or cacao in a ritualistic setting. It often involves setting an intention and could include meditation, sacred movement, music or breath work.

If that sounds like a chocolate-covered, new-agey cult, we get it. But cacao’s divine reputation reaches much farther back than your local yoga studio. The agent Mayan, Aztec and Olmec tribes revered cacao as a sacred plant and used it in important religious ceremonies and medicine.

But exactly what is ceremonial cacao, and how is it different from chocolate? We’re going to explain the difference and fill you in on how you can take your experience of chocolate to the next level either by yourself or with a group.

But first, let’s explain what ceremonial cacao is.

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You say Cocoa, I Say Cacao—Let’s Call the Whole Thing Confusing

Ceremonial cacao is basically chocolate in its purest, least processed form. But to deepen your understanding, let’s go further into detail.

Cacao beans are literally the seed of all types of chocolate. These seeds grow inside the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree and have a naturally bitter flavor. To turn these beans into the chocolate goodies we know and love, they must be fermented, dried for several days and then oven roasted.  

After they’re roasted, the beans are crushed to remove their husks. The remaining cacao nibs are ground into a cacao paste and used in chocolate bars and candies once sugar and other ingredients have been added. 

To make what is commonly known as cocoa powder, the paste is pressed to remove most of the fat in the form of cocoa butter which leaves a dry powder. This powder is also used as an ingredient in chocolate treats and combined with sugar to make powders for hot chocolate.

Related: Godiva vs. Ghirardelli [A Chocolate Lovers Moment of Truth]

Ceremonial Cacao

So How Is Ceremonial Cacao Different?

The main difference between ceremonial cacao and other chocolate forms is the processing level. While the beans are still fermented, they are either left in the sun to dry naturally or roasted at very low temperatures to retain their healthy living enzymes. 

Then the husks are removed (sometimes by hand), and the nibs are ground into a paste which eventually solidifies. And that’s it! Ceremonial cacao contains no added sugars or artificial ingredients, although a few ceremonial cacao companies add things like vanilla, rose or other natural flavorings.

And because it’s usually not roasted at high temperatures and still contains cocoa butter, it’s far more nutritious and carries greater health benefits than conventional chocolate. (In contrast, conventional chocolate is roasted at high temperatures, which destroys its healthy enzymes and antioxidants).

The Growing Process of Ceremonial Cacao

Another important difference with ceremonial cacao is the thoughtfulness and care of the growing process. First and most importantly, it’s sustainably raised and fair trade. It’s also usually made from a wild strain of cacao tree called the Criollo. 

Although less hardy than trees bred for industrial farming, the beans have higher percentages of beneficial compounds like theobromine, serotonin, anandamide and tryptophan that help to create a robust and heart-warming sensation in the body. 

Industrial chocolate is often made from a tree called the Forastero, which was bred for its hardiness and contains fewer of these compounds. There’s also a hybrid tree called the Trintario, a cross between the Criollo and Forastero. The Trintario does contain more beneficial compounds than the Forastero and is sometimes used to make ceremonial grade cacao.

The Roots of the Cacao Ceremony

Before we talk about the preparation of cacao and modern-day ceremonies, let’s dive into its roots. Long before our current obsession with chocolate started, ancient mesoamerican cultures such as the Olmec, Aztec and Mayan revered the cacao tree as a sacred plant. They used its beans to make a bitter drink. 

Seen as a facilitator between the earthly and spiritual realms and often called the food of the gods, it was used in important rituals and was usually reserved for shamans, royalty and warriors. 

Although these rituals varied from culture to culture, cacao was a very important part of burial rites, baptisms, marriages and fertility ceremonies. It was also used as a sacred medicine and to prepare warriors for battle. Cacao is still used as a holistic health drink today.

The Metaphysical Benefits of Ceremonial Cacao

Thousands of years have passed since shamans first used cacao in sacred ceremonies. But today, this revered bean is making a comeback as a spiritual facilitator. Of course, like most metaphysical practices, the experience will vary from person to person, but here are a few things that practitioners find with the use of ceremonial cacao:

Cacao Opens the Heart

Cacao is said to increase blood flow, warm the heart, help you connect to your feelings and remove energetic blockages.

Cacao Heightens Meditation

High-grade cacao is also said to increase focus, allowing you to enter meditative practices more deeply.

Cacao Makes You More Creative

Many seekers that use ceremonial cacao regularly find that inspiration and new ideas flow more easily.

Cacao Promotes Unity

Because of its heart-opening quality, cacao can help you connect more deeply with others when used in a group. 

The Physical Benefits of Ceremonial Cacao

Though skeptics may raise an eyebrow at its esoteric benefits, there are some very down-to-earth reasons why high-grade, ceremonial cacao can make us feel so good. Because it’s less processed and not exposed to high heat, the health benefits of cacao are plentiful.

Pure Cacao Contains Anandamide

Anandamide is a neurotransmitter naturally produced by the brain when we’re feeling happy. Also known as the “bliss molecule,” it’s considered an endocannabinoid and binds with THC receptors in our body. 

Pure cacao not only contains Anandamide but also contains enzymes that prevent its breakdown in the body. In other words, that happy feeling that chocolate gives you isn’t just imaginary.

Cacao Contains Theobromine

Contrary to popular belief, cacao is low in caffeine but does contain a compound called theobromine. While it is a stimulant, it acts on the cardiovascular system instead of the nervous system as caffeine does.

This effect helps to increase heart function and open blood vessels, bringing a state of alertness and increased blood flow. Hello, literal heart opener!

Cacao Contains Serotonin

Cacao helps boost the body’s serotonin levels, which in turn helps to elevate your mood and ward off stress.

Cacao Contains Antioxidants

Raw cacao contains more antioxidants than any other food (including blueberries, goji berries and pomegranates), which helps to give it anti-aging properties.

Cacao Contains Important Minerals

Cacao is also a good source of important trace minerals like zinc, chromium and magnesium, which play an array of important functions in our body and are often lacking in the typical diet. 

How to Prepare Ceremonial Cacao

Because ceremonial cacao comes in a brick of hardened cacao paste, you’ll need to shave off smaller pieces to prepare it. One of the easiest ways is to put the shavings in a blender with a pre-heated liquid such as water, milk or a plant-based milk.

If you don’t have a blender or want a process that feels more meditative, you can also add the shavings from your ceremonial cacao paste to a small pot of water and warm it on the stove. You’ll want to stick to low or medium heat, so the water doesn’t boil and burn the chocolate. And you’ll also need to whisk it constantly to help break up the cacao and ensure it doesn’t settle on the bottom. When the cacao is completely melted, it’s ready.

Although purists prefer it straight up, you could add a more natural, unrefined sweetener to your drink like maple syrup, dates, agave or coconut sugar. It makes great smoothies and drinks, so get creative!
And if you want to boost its health benefits even further, you can add things like turmeric, maca powder, ginger, cardamom, cayenne pepper or your preferred superfood or adaptogen. Some ready-made cacao powders are already pre-mixed with these vitality blends for you.

Whatever you decide to add your cacao, you’ll find it has a thicker, grainy consistency because it’s less refined than conventional chocolate.

Cacao Ceremony

Cacao Ceremonies at Home
While you can seek out or create a group ceremony, you can also enjoy ceremonial cacao by incorporating a daily or weekly ritual for yourself. Here’s an idea of what that might look like:
First, prepare your ceremonial cacao. Then, light a candle or clear your space with incense, sage, copal or palo santo. Hold the cacao cup to your heart and set an intention as you sip the cacao. If you want, incorporate a sacred practice you connect to, such as breathwork, yoga, dance, chanting, meditation or even journaling to bring the ceremony deeper.

Does all of that sound like a lot in your busy day? Then simply hold the cacao to your heart and set an intention for your day. The best thing about cacao ceremonies is that you do what feels right to you. A cacao ceremonial kit includes everything you might need for a cacao ceremony at home.

Group Cacao Ceremonies
Of course, experiencing cacao in a group can bring more energy to the practice and help to promote a sense of unity with the people involved. Though group ceremonies will vary depending on who leads them, here’s a general idea of what you can expect.

The ceremony is usually held in a sacred space with a central altar. To start, the leader or leaders typically open the ceremony with a few words. Then they ask people to introduce themselves and share an intention or something they’d like to work on. The cacao is brought out, blessed and shared around the circle.

At this point, the leader may ask you to hold the cup to your heart and silently confirm your intention. The group continues the ritual by drinking cacao together. Depending on the leader, a sacred practice is usually incorporated at this point. It could be meditation, a sound bath, breath work, chanting, yoga, etc.
Finally, the leader closes the circle with a few words.

What to Look For in Ceremonial Cacao

Has ceremonial cacao piqued your interest because of its physical and metaphysical benefits? If you plan to purchase some for your personal journey, do keep in mind that there is no governing body that determines what constitutes ceremonial cacao. But there are some important things to look out for when you’re buying it:

  • Ensure it’s 100% cacao-bean paste with no artificial ingredients—organic is best.
  • Look for cacao that was roasted at very low temperatures so that it doesn’t lose its beneficial enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Conventional chocolate is generally heated at very high temperatures, destroying many of its nutritional qualities.
  • Try to purchase cacao from the Criollo tree as it has the highest amount of beneficial compounds. If not available, the hybrid Trinitario bean is an excellent second choice. 
  • Be sure that the cacao you buy is fair-trade and sustainable.

Want a little more guidance? Here are a few companies to check out for all things ceremonial cacao.

Cacao as a Companion

Though cacao ceremonies have surfaced into modern-day consciousness once again, using cacao to open spiritual doors and fortify and heal the body is an ancient custom. If you decide to use this particular plant medicine to aid you in your journey, research the company you’re buying from to ensure you get a quality product made with care and respect for the environment.

High-grade ceremonial cacao can be a companion in your effort to open the heart, remove energy blocks and tap into your creativity. But remember that your effort and intention ultimately turn it into a spiritual aid. In other words, the power of transformation already resides inside of you!

You might be interested in: Learn What Osmanthus Is and Its 5 Benefits

5 Cacao Powders To Try:

  1. Cacao Ceremonial Grade From Guatemala
  2. Ceremonial Grade Drinking Cacao, Vitality Blend
  3. Organic Colombian Ceremonial Cacao Paste
  4. Moon Cacao Ceremony Kit
  5. Boundless Belize Pure 100% Ceremonial Cacao Drink

Sherry De Alba

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