Friday, October 4, 2013

Cocoa is Ananda

Do you like a cocoa drink? Well, the Mayans were sipping it three millenniums back. They preferred it cooled, and without sweetening. Probably they were aware of the extraordinary nourishment contents, health benefits and the sensuality of the brew. Modern research confirms the several advantages of this gift of nature. I shall deal with that towards the end of this post. That will also clarify why the Sanskrit word Ananda is linked cocoa in the title.

The Spaniards introduced cocoa to Europe. It didn’t catch on for several years till someone thought of adding sugar to the drink. That was a hit and the beverage caught on with the elite. The sudden boost in demand for cocoa made commercially interested people rush to the tropics looking for suitable land for establishing plantations.

Cocoa plants, which are raised from seeds, can be grown in several types of soil. For instance, in Kerala, India, one can find cocoa shrubs from sandy coastal areas to the brown earth of the hill slopes. Most of these are grown as inter-crop.
The major producers of cocoa are Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Ghana, Nigeria, Brazil, Cameroon, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Colombia and Mexico. India contributes only about 12,000 tonnes in the world production of 4000 thousand tonnes. But efforts are being made to bring more areas in different States under cocoa cultivation. There is a substantial yearly increase in the world cocoa output.

Three different types of cocoa plants are cultivated – Forastero (yellow pod and purple beans), Criollo (red pods containing pale purple, white or ivory beans) and Trinitario (red pods, ivory, white or pale purple beans) which is a hybrid of the first two.
The pods which grow on the stem and the branches do not ripen at the same time. Every 3 or 4 weeks those which are ready should be cut off without damaging the wood. The pods are then broken open and the beans scooped out for processing. The shell has no commercial value except for making compost.

The beans are fermented, dried, sorted and cleaned. This is followed by winnowing, roasting, grinding, and pressing. The last mentioned process is meant to extract cocoa butter which is essential for chocolate making. After removing the butter, the compressed cake is powdered for making beverages and for cooking.

Cornell University, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Department of Nutrition at University of California, and others have done much research into the medical advantages of cocoa. Please do read 7 health benefits of drinking hot cocoa. Coco intake is cardiac friendly in different ways. It can reduce the risk of cancer. It even helps you to think better. Cocoa contains sufficient quantities of Anandamide (named after the Sanskrit word Ananda which means bliss). It is a mood enhancer.

Which is better, solid chocolate or drinking chocolate? The former is comparatively at a disadvantage because of the presence of saturated fats. If you go in for off the shelf instant hot cocoa mixes, the problem is that they often contain all kinds of ingredients which may nullify the benefits of the base material.

If you want to have a genuine drink follow 5 healthy recipes for hot cocoa.  
Ananda, paramananda.

( All pictures from Wikimedia Commons.).

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