Cacao originated in the Amazon Basin of South America and played an important role in ancient Mesoamerican society. It had great importance socially, spiritually, economically and politically. Cacao was a symbol and source of social status and wealth and was even treated as a currency. Archeologists have discovered special vessels and pots designed for holding and drinking the traditional kakawa beverage of the Maya that date back as far as 1400-1100 B.C.. These traditional vessels were used during special social ceremonies, such as marriages and births.1
Cacao was also very important in Mayan religion. Mayan myth depicts one of the most prominent deities, Hun Hunahpu, the Maize God, being decapitated and his head being transformed into a cacao pod and placed on the cacao tree. Both maize and cacao are also found in the mythical Mountain of Sustenance, showing their shared importance in Mayan culture.1
Cacao was also prominent in Aztec culture and held in high esteem as a royal substance. It had a strong connection to the divine and Aztec noblemen were buried with cacao alongside precious jewels and gold. A Spanish conquistador also chronicled his experience seeing Montezuma, king of the Aztecs, consume “over fifty great jugs of good cacao” as an aphrodisiac before visiting his wives.2
Since Mesoamerican times, cacao has spread all over the world and is widely recognized both for its flavor and aroma in foods and for its health benefits.
Therapeutic Properties Described in The Aromatherapy Literature
From Fragrance and Wellbeing: Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche3:
- Used to stimulate the appetite and nervous system
- Psychoactive and aphrodisiac properties
- Improves mood and affects endorphin levels
- Adds “intrigue and depth” to fragrances
Cacao in Research
Cacao has been found to be very high in polyphenols, including the flavonoid vanillin, which is the primary component of our Cacao Absolute. Research suggests that the activity of these compounds may have incredible health benefits. Various studies have shown that cacao extract and the vanillin in cacao have the ability to lower blood pressure4 and act as an anti-clotting agent5, have cardiovascular health benefits6, reduce inflammation7,8, have strong antioxidant activity9, and may even have anti-cancer properties10, 11.
Summary of Research Studies:
- Meta-analysis of current randomized dietary studies shows that regular consumption of cacao-rich foods can lead to a reduction in blood pressure.4
- A blinded parallel-designed study showed that individuals who consumed cacao tablets displayed significantly increased plasma concentrations of antioxidants and decreased platelet function, which could inhibit blood clotting.5
- Review of epidemiological studies suggests that antioxidant effects of flavonoid-rich chocolate may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.6
- Cacao extract significantly reduced the secretion and RNA expression of cell-signaling proteins that cause inflammation.7
- Cacao extract added to cultures of lymphocytes inhibited immune response, suggesting that cacao “could be important in some states of the immune system hyperactivity such as autoimmune or chronic inflammatory diseases”.8
- The vanillin component of cacao has strong antioxidant activity.9
- Vanillin applied to human colorectal cancer cells caused halting of the cancer cell cycle and cell death.10
- Mice orally administered with vanillin showed a significant reduction in breast cancer cell metastasis, suggesting that vanillin “may be of value in the development of anti-metastatic drugs for cancer treatment”.11
1 Christopher, Hillary. “Cacao’s Relationship with Mesoamerican Society.” Spectrum, no. 3, 2013, pp. 48–60.
2 “Cacao: Gift of the New World.” Chocolate - Food of the Gods, by Alex Szogyi, Greenwood Press, 1997, pp. 147–153.
3 Rhind, Jennifer. Fragrance and Wellbeing: Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche. Singing Dragon, 2014.
4 Taubert, Dirk. “Effect of Cocoa and Tea Intake on Blood Pressure: a Meta-Analysis.”Archives of Internal Medicine, vol. 167, no. 7, 9 Apr. 2007, p. 626-634., doi:10.1001/archinte.167.7.626.
5 Murphy, Karen J, et al. “Dietary Flavanols and Procyanidin Oligomers from Cocoa (Theobroma Cacao) Inhibit Platelet Function.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 77, no. 6, 2003, pp. 1466–1473., doi:10.1093/ajcn/77.6.1466.
6 Kris-Etherton, Penny M., and Carl L. Keen. “Evidence That the Antioxidant Flavonoids in Tea and Cocoa Are Beneficial for Cardiovascular Health.” Current Opinion in Lipidology, vol. 13, no. 1, 2002, pp. 41–49., doi:10.1097/00041433-200202000-00007.
7 Emma Ramiro, et al. “Flavonoids from Theobroma Cacao Down-Regulate Inflammatory Mediators.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 53, no. 22, 2005, pp. 8506–8511.
8 Ramiro, Emma, et al. “Effect of Theobroma Cacao Flavonoids on Immune Activation of a Lymphoid Cell Line.” British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 93, no. 06, 2005, p. 859., doi:10.1079/bjn20051443.
9 Tai, Akihiro, et al. “Evaluation of Antioxidant Activity of Vanillin by Using Multiple Antioxidant Assays.” Biochimica Et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - General Subjects, vol. 1810, no. 2, 2011, pp. 170–177., doi:10.1016/j.bbagen.2010.11.004.
10 Ho, Ketli, et al. “Apoptosis and Cell Cycle Arrest of Human Colorectal Cancer Cell Line HT-29 Induced by Vanillin.” Cancer Epidemiology, vol. 33, no. 2, 2009, pp. 155–160., doi:10.1016/j.canep.2009.06.003.
11 Lirdprapamongkol, Kriengsak, et al. “Vanillin Suppresses in Vitro Invasion and in Vivo Metastasis of Mouse Breast Cancer Cells.” European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, vol. 25, no. 1, 2005, pp. 57–65., doi:10.1016/j.ejps.2005.01.015.