Cacao is the fruit from the Theobroma Cacao tree, literally translated as ‘food of the Gods’. Native people in Mesoamerica used it as a sacred drink at ceremonial gatherings to create healing, connection and inspiration. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and cacao ceremonies are becoming more and more popular as spaces for people to connect with others – and reconnect with the self – in new ways. Let's look at what science and personal experience can tell us about the healing and neurocognitive benefits of cacao ceremonies. Also, if you’d like to try one yourself, we’ve included a cacao mocktail recipe below to help you create your own cacao ceremony.
The science and the benefits of cacao
Cacao powder is packed with flavonoids. These nutrients help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and help prevent blood clots. And this isn't just coming from pre-Columbian civilisations – the first to discover the benefits of pure cacao – there's plenty of science to back it up. As an excellent source of antioxidants, iron, protein, magnesium, potassium and fibre, you could almost call this superfood one of nature's fanciest pharmaceuticals. The brain is an incredibly complex piece of 'machinery', and cacao has a positive impact through neurotransmitters like happy hormones dopamine and serotonin. It makes us happy, reduces stress, strengthens our focus and creative flow, helps the body heal, detoxifies, and gives our immune system a good boost.
- High in antioxidants
Cacao has one of the highest ORAC scores, which is used to measure antioxidant levels in food. As it's high in flavanols, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, it helps to protect your heart and increases blood flow throughout our body, including our brain.
- Rich in minerals
Let me count the ways or, in this case, the minerals. Magnesium (more than any other food source), iron, potassium, zinc, copper, calcium, selenium, and many more. These beauties help relax the muscles, stimulate brain function, detoxify your system, support your heart, glucose metabolism and immune system, increase tissue repair, and help improve collagen and keratin levels in the body.
- Positive energy
Compared to caffeine, theobromine present in cacao gives us more prolonged and softer energy without the peak and dip that many people experience. It is a heart stimulant, dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.
- Positive effect on mood, focus and creativity
Phenylethylamine (PEA) is a mood regulator and triggers happiness hormones like endorphin, dopamine and noradrenaline. The perfect boost to your creativity by increasing focus and energy. But there’s more! Anandamide, the so-called ‘bliss molecule’ (ananda means bliss in Sanskrit), helps create a feeling of euphoria or runner’s high. Cacao is also a direct source of tryptophan, which helps produce serotonin and melatonin.
What’s it like to join a cacao ceremony?
There are many mysteries around cacao, and experienced users say cacao helps increase the energetic field of our hearts. When consumed in a group, this energetic field becomes exponentially larger and more effective. Even if you're participating with strangers, they may share personal experiences that can bring clarity and inspiration into your own life. When a group all drinks cacao together, they shift their energy into the same frequency or vibration. This may seem a bit out there, a little 'heads extremely high in the clouds’, yet some claim it's similar to a group of friends going out for beers – you’re on the same journey together by drinking beverages that have the same effect on the body. Sans any ‘Oh my god, did I really do that?’ regrets and potential killer hangovers the next day.
‘It’s actually a healing experience for your body, mind and spirit’, says Sara van Asdonck, a colleague of mine with plenty of experience when it comes to interesting practices or ceremonies that promote mindfulness and benefit mind, body and soul. She first came across cacao ceremonies while joining a breathworks training, a session on breathing techniques that can help improve mental, physical and spiritual well-being, which included a cacao ceremony.
Sara goes on to say, "I used to live inside my head too much and tended to ignore any SOS signals my body might be sending out. Thankfully, I've managed to shift to a more mindful and open-hearted mindset over the past few years, with the help of practices like breathworks, coaching, meditation and, more recently, cacao ceremonies. The latter really intrigued me as it's all about your sensory experiences and feelings and letting your thoughts wander free. There's no control."
Like most of us experience when meditating, though, Sara also found it hard to let go of her thoughts initially, thinking, 'is this the feeling I'm supposed to have? Or is this it? […] This? Is anyone else feeling anything?’. Miraculously, you could say the powers of cacao helped her body take over, and those anxious thoughts drifted away. She felt energetic, alive, creative, and it seemed like all the pieces were falling together.
Cacao has a subtle effect. You could say it’s more of subconscious thing; it lifts barriers you didn’t know were there and brings to light the unexpected, the suppressed. Some notice it directly, others after drinking cacao for a week, and Sara admits her experience – while still powerful and beautiful – wasn’t as intense as others in her group. Some experienced visions of long-deceased family members, others found a new purpose in life or in their careers and decided to quit their job the next day. Whatever the personal experience, a cacao ceremony is said to bring you exactly what you need with an effect that can remain in the body for hours afterwards. ‘While in bed that same day, I could suddenly clarify things or find proper solutions for other issues I’d been having. I think that’s why they recommend keeping a journal the week after to write down your thoughts.
"Would I recommend cacao ceremonies to others? If you're interested in spiritual journeys, practices like breathworks or mindfulness courses, then yes. Though I think it's best to attend multiple sessions to truly understand its powerful effects. Especially if you're like me at first and you're finding it hard to give up control over your thoughts and the situation you're in. No two ceremonies are the same, and the effect depends on your mindset at the time. You get what you need."
The word ‘cacao’ originally comes from the Mayan words Ka’kau – meaning heart blood – and Chokola’j – to drink chocolate together [link to ]. This blood connection comes from the conviction that Mayan gods bled onto the cacao pods. Although the strongest effects of raw chocolate are said to stem from the collective experience as a group, you can also try it on your own. Create a sacred cacao ceremony at home with our cacao mocktail to try and reconnect with your intuition and open up your heart.
Cacao beans infused apple no-jito
Mocktail by Sébastien Le Fouler, Head Bartender at Restaurant Rouhi.
- 1-litre apple juice
- cacao beans (crushed)
- ½ lime
- 1 tsp cane sugar
- fresh mint
- ice cubes
Infuse 1 litre of apple juice with the crushed cacao beans and keep it in the fridge for 48 hours. After infusing, filter the apple juice from the cacao. Cut and dice the lime, mix them in a glass with 4-5 mint leaves and the cane sugar. Add ice and fill up the glass with your filtered apple juice. Use some mint, lime and cacao as decoration.