Through the ages, chocolate has been a rather highly desired sweet treat by the young and old alike and no one can say no to a bite of the creamy melt-in-the-mouth delight. But did you know that besides the delicious flavour that it imparts to a host of pastries, desserts and baked goodies like cakes, brownies, cookies, the key ingredient in chocolate – cocoa powder, actually offers outstanding benefits for overall health? Derived from the Theobroma cacao i.e. the cocoa plant that thrives in the tropical regions of Central and South America, cocoa powder is extracted from cocoa beans, which are roasted, dried and thoroughly pounded.
In its natural form, cocoa powder is light to dark brown in colour with a distinct bitter taste. This finely ground powder is a storehouse of nutrients, including dietary fibers, proteins and amino acids, in addition to crucial minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, iron, copper, zinc. Furthermore, cocoa powder contains a treasure trove of polyphenol antioxidants which avert chronic illnesses of hypertension, diabetes and cancer. No doubt, the wealth of nourishing compounds in cocoa powder confer excellent wellness incentives like preventing cancer, regulating blood pressure, stimulating brain functions, enhancing heart health and managing diabetes symptoms.
The Cacao Tree:
Scientifically termed Theobroma cacao, the cacao tree or cocoa tree is a small, evergreen plant that belongs to the Malvaceae botanical family It is native to the tropical terrains of countries in Central America and is also cultivated in nations in Africa, South America, namely Ivory Coast, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Nigeria, Ghana. Nevertheless, due to its global preference in foods, desserts and beverages, varieties of cocoa plants are also grown in warm locales in other countries such as India, Belgium, USA, Australia, New Zealand.
Growing up to a height of 4 – 8 m, the cacao tree bears broad, dark green leaves in an alternate arrangement, with flowers occurring in clusters. The fruit of the tree is called a cacao pod, is oval and in yellow or orange hues, encompassing several seeds known as “cocoa beans”. These beans are the chief bounty obtained form the cacao tree, which are processed, dried, fermented, roasted and ground to obtain cocoa powder.
Cocoa Powder Nutrition:
The nutritional values present in 100 g (grams) serving of unsweetened cocoa powder, as per the Food And Nutrition Database of the USDA (United States Department Of Agriculture), are as follows:
Water 1 %
Energy 196 Kcal
Unsaturated fatty acids 5g
Pantothenic acid 0.25mg
Vitamin B-6 0.12mg
Vitamin E 0.1mg
Vitamin K 2.5mg
In addition to the array of proteins, amino acids, fibers, vitamins, minerals, cocoa powder is also rich in polyphenol antioxidants such as catechin, epicatechin, flavonol, anthocyanin and procyanidin. Cocoa powder also possesses significant amounts of theobromine and caffeine, which have stimulant and neuroprotective properties. These vital nutrients offer a host of wellness incentives for a fit body and sound mind, keeping diseases and infections at bay.
Health Benefits Of Cocoa Powder:
Augments Heart Function
Having negligible cholesterol content, cocoa powder can be safely consumed in diet regularly for promoting heart health. Cocoa powder is also rich in anthocyanins which prevent accumulation of lipids in blood vessels and improves the circulation of blood to and from the heart, ensuring optimal functioning of cardiac muscles.
Enhances Digestive System
Cocoa powder has a significant fiber content, which helps to prevent instances of constipation, bloating and cramping of the stomach, upon ingestion of a heavy meal. Moreover, its laxative nature regulates bowel movements, thereby easing any discomfort experienced in the gut.
Detoxifies The Kidneys
Cocoa powder stimulates the normal elimination of body wastes via the excretory system in the body. It boosts the secretion of fluids within the kidneys, promptly getting rid of accumulated toxins and at the same time, guaranteeing proper hydration of the internal organs in the body. In this manner, cocoa powder supports the routine tasks of kidneys and bladder.
Strengthens Respiratory Processes
Cocoa powder has intrinsic decongestant and expectorant qualities, which implies that it can readily loosen any excess phlegm or mucus secretions and remove them from the respiratory tract. This immensely benefits lung function and also prevents any allergies and breathing difficulties.
Helps Maintain Healthy Body Weight
Cocoa powder offers calories and is high in essential nutrients, for optimal energy metabolism and can be taken in measured amounts by those people who are strictly following a diet regime to lose weight, especially in the case of those with diabetes. It also provides dietary fibers that can be processed easily in the stomach, keeping one feeling full for longer, reducing cravings and assisting in burning fat at a quicker pace.
Cocoa powder is considered as one of the best remedies for cardiac ailments such as palpitations, irregular heartbeats, chest pain, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease. Cocoa powder is safe to consume for heart issues, to promote blood circulation and ameliorate the difficulties in performing normal day to day activities.
Cocoa powder extracts, when applied in instances of severe hair fall, invigorated the blood circulation and nerve function in the scalp, promoting rapid hair growth. Alopecia is characterized by prominent bald spots and excessive hair loss, and the high carotene content in cocoa extract counters these factors, to reduce constant hair fall and enhance the strength and smoothness of hair.
Strengthens Bones And Joints
Being an effective anti-inflammatory, cocoa powder actually reduces bone and muscle pain and heals joint disorders such as arthritis, osteoporosis, gout and fractures. In addition, it is packed with the three essential bone-fortifying minerals namely calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, which in turn increases bone mass and helps regain flexible movement in muscles and joints.
Being a powerhouse flavonoids and carotenes, cocoa powder is a potent agent to boost immune system function in situations of illnesses. Since function of organs is below the optimum during disease, consuming cocoa powder provides antioxidants to blood cells, which is subsequently transported to other organs to recover their peak functioning levels. It also helps to recuperate from tiredness.
The thyroid hormone levels tend to fluctuate and rise above the normal range in some people, causing hyperthyroidism. Cocoa powder is profuse in iodine content, which is vital to reduce elevated thyroid hormone levels, as well as zinc, which plays a central role in facilitating enzyme function for optimizing thyroid concentrations.
The prominent vitamin B6 or pyridoxine content in cocoa powder is very beneficial in monitoring brain functions and allowing the unobstructed conduction of nerve impulses. Hence, during instances of insomnia or severe lack of sleep, having a drink with cocoa powder can lessen the activity of neurotransmitters and promote sleep.
Cocoa Powder Uses For Skin And Hair:
Aside from adding flavour and richness to various pastries and beverages and supplying myriad health benefits when consumed internally, cocoa powder is also ideal for topical application and enhances external appearance by revitalizing skin and strengthening hair. This is chiefly owing to its amazingly high amino acid content and potent antioxidants. Moreover, the fine powdery consistency of cocoa powder makes it a wonderful exfoliating agent, that completely removes dead cells from the face, body and scalp, apart from providing a refreshing look and radiant glow to skin and hair.
Supplies Anti-Aging Benefits
Cocoa powder is composed of phenolic acids and flavonoids - two classes of antioxidants that are excellent free radical terminators. This promotes new skin cell formation, concealing fine lines and wrinkles. In addition, the vast reserves of amino acids in cocoa powder help boost collagen, maintaining suppleness and smoothness of skin.
Applying a face mask of cocoa powder with some milk and honey or other natural infusions is a superb solution to get rid of sun tan, UV ray damage and irregular skin complexion, due to the skin-tightening, protective and rejuvenating traits of cocoa.
Reduces Acne And Boils
Cocoa powder is imbued with tannins, which are plant compounds with anti-inflammatory qualities. Thus, it aids in decreasing acne, pimples and boils, besides brushing away dark spots and scars. Cocoa powder combined with aloe vera gel and tea tree oil is a superb natural remedy for soothing acne outbursts and diminishing the appearance of scars, dark spots on skin.
Prevents Hair Fall
Consisting of formative amino acids such as methionine and lysine, cocoa powder in the diet as well as when applied to the scalp enriches hair growth and renews texture of tresses. This controls hair fall and averts premature greying and balding. The antioxidants in cocoa powder penetrate into the hair shafts and stimulate follicle growth, for long, strong and thick hair.
Cocoa powder possesses innumerable essential amino acids and carotenoids that confer useful hair growth and anti-microbial characteristics, when applied as an herbal paste to dandruff-prone scalp. It soothes the hair roots or follicles, thereby repairing damaged scalp as well as dry and brittle hair, besides guaranteeing relief from incessant itching.
Recipes With Cocoa Powder:
Cocoa powder is a unique kitchen ingredient in that it represents that rare combination of taste plus health. This finely ground extract of roasted cocoa beans, imbued with several essential nutrients, is extensively utilised in scrumptious pastries, pies, beverages for that heavenly chocolate indulgence. Here are some mouth-watering recipes with cocoa powder, that are quick and easy to whip up, which also bolster overall wellbeing.
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large eggs
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
9 – 11 almonds, halved
7 – 9 walnuts, broken
A fistful of dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.
In a bowl, mix the olive oil, butter, sugar, then transfer the eggs, vanilla essence and whisk thoroughly.
Now add the unsweetened cocoa powder, all-purpose flour and combine well.
Slightly grease a square baking tray with a cooking spray, place parchment paper all along, lined neatly at the edges.
Pour the batter into the baking tray, add the almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries and ensure the top is uniformly flattened out.
Bake for about 25 minutes until the corners become a bit hard and the centre of the batter is firm and soft, without any liquid consistency.
Take out the tray, let the baked mix cool down to room temperature, then slice it into 12 – 16 equal-sized square or rectangle-shaped brownies.
Bite into these yummy fudge brownies with some vanilla ice cream for dessert after lunch or dinner.
Cocoa powder comprises vast amounts of calories, carbohydrates for instant energy and combatting lethargy, body weakness, while also being high in dietary fibers to aid in smooth digestion. Olive oil supplies healthy unsaturated fats for promoting heart functions and eggs are a great source of protein for strong muscles, growth and development. Loaded with vitamins B1, B2, b3, almonds speed up metabolism and walnuts provide iron to prevent anemia and ensure healthy blood flow in the system. Dried cranberries contain profuse quantities of vitamin C, to uplift immunity.
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups milk
3 tbsp sugar
A few marshmallows
1 tsp cinnamon powder
Heat milk in a vessel on medium flame and add the sugar, stirring well.
Transfer the unsweetened cocoa powder and cinnamon powder into the vessel and cook for 5 – 7 minutes.
Turn off the stovetop, pour the hot chocolate into cups or mugs, top it off with marshmallows and sip on this tempting warm beverage in the evening, whilst munching on some cookies.
Cocoa powder is bestowed with neuroprotective antioxidants like theobromine, theophylline, which elevate brain power, nervous system activity and enhance mood, memory. Milk is chock-full of valuable nutrients such as calcium, magnesium for tough healthy bones, robust flexible joints, besides proteins, useful fatty acids for fortified muscles and cardiac wellness. Imbued with anti-inflammatory and decongestant traits, cinnamon effectively remedies cough and cold.
Side Effects Of Cocoa Powder:
When consumed in moderate amounts on a daily basis, cocoa powder does not cause any major side effects. However, since it possesses caffeine, too much intake of cocoa powder results in frequent urination, sleeplessness or insomnia, gastroesophageal reflux disease i.e. GERD and even lead to irregular heartbeats.
Moreover, in instances of allergies towards cocoa-based ingredients, having cocoa powder triggers digestive problems such as gas, bloating. It also gives rise to hypersensitivity reactions when applied topically on the skin i.e. face, body, scalp.
Cocoa powder is undeniably a nourishing food loaded with a plethora of nutrients, which confer marvellous advantages for healthy heart, bones, digestion, skin and hair, to name a few. A natural food obtained from roasted cocoa beans, cocoa powder, when consumed in the organic, unsweetened form sans added sugars, boosts both physical and mental wellbeing. Keep in mind to ingest only measured portions as part of the regular diet, to steer clear of any side effects from overconsumption and reap the astounding health benefits of cocoa powder.