Its scientific name is Theobroma cacao and it has its origins in the Amazon basin. In Peru, it is grown in 16 departments, notably San Martín, Junín, Ucayali, Cusco, Huánuco, Amazonas and Cajamarca, where 91% of production is concentrated. Furthermore, according to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), our country is the third largest producer and exporter of cocoa in Latin America, after Brazil and Ecuador, respectively.
Coming from the cocoa tree, this product delights taste buds around the world. It is a basic component for chocolate and contains many beneficial properties for our body, from improving our mood to preventing cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
Among its main benefits are:
Stimulating the central nervous system
Cocoa contains theobromine, which has positive effects on our memory and concentration, as well as reducing stress levels.
It is recommended for patients suffering from some kind of depression, thanks to the components it possesses such as tryptophan, which stimulates the production of serotonin (the happy chemical) and anandamide that helps improve mood.
Some studies have shown that, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, it prevents liver cancer, prostate cancer, gastric cancer, colon cancer and diabetes, as well as cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases. It also reduces the risk of tumor formation. An American study showed that, in a mug of cocoa powder, there is the highest concentration of antioxidants.
Cocoa has a high content of magnesium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and minerals vital for the proper development of bones and muscles.
Regulating the digestive system
Due to its high fiber content, it stimulates our digestive system, avoiding constipation.
Reducing cholesterol levels
It lowers levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, and increases good cholesterol (HDL), thanks to its antioxidant properties.
Hydrating hair and skin
In terms of beauty and skin care, cocoa is a much sought-after product, thanks to the hydration it provides to the hair and its flavonoid content that protects the skin from cell damage caused by free radicals. Its use is also recommended to reduce cellulite.
Cocoa in cuisine
Although cocoa beans are used to make chocolate, other components of this fruit, such as the peel and pulp attached to the seed also contain nutrients and are now sold in the form of pulp for use in Peruvian cuisine.
Our chef and researcher Mercedes Mendoza, who has been studying cocoa for many years, notes that this pulp is very rich in vitamins, zinc, magnesium and pectin.
Regarding its use in the kitchen, Mendoza points out that the pulp has a neutral flavor and is used as a natural thickener in foods such as ají de pollo, papa a la huancaína and soups, without altering its original flavor.
Did you know?
- A good chocolate must have at least 40% cocoa, so it will have less fat, milk and sugar.
- It is recommended to eat 1 to 2 ounces of cocoa 2 to 3 times a week, either dark chocolate or in powder.
- Our Amazon is home to six of the ten varieties of cocoa in existence.
- Peru has three native cocoa sub-varieties which are unique in the world: the Piura white cocoa, the Cusco Chuncho and the Cajamarca Fortunato.
- Theobroma cacao in Greek means "the food of the gods".
Sources: Andina/ El Comercio/ Perú 21/ Canal Ipe / cocinafacil.com