The use of cacao began around 1200 BC. The ancient cultures of the Americas considered cacao as a scared plant. For many cultures, drinks made from cacao seed was restricted for ceremonial use and consumption by high ranking persons like kings, priests, government servants and warriors.
Researches have proved that cacao seeds contain 300 different chemical compounds. It contains the stimulant caffeine and theobromine that calms brain and energize nervous system. Cacao also contains compounds that reduce depression and induce sense of euphoria. It also contains powerful antioxidant compounds that protects from cancer and heart diseases.
The general properties of cacao are useful to treat intestinal complaints and calm the nerves. Occasionally, it is used as a stimulant or to treat fatigue. Cacao along with other herbs is used to treat fever, breath irregularities and heart palpitations. Cacao butter finds its application in soothing burns. Some cardiologists recommend daily dose of dark chocolate for its cardiovascular benefits.
While cacao and cocoa are interchangeably used, there exists slight difference between the two. Cacao is used to refer all foodstuffs produced from cacao seeds or nuts of cacao tree. Cacao powder is made by crushing unroasted cacao seeds. But the powder produced from roasted cacao seeds is termed cocoa powder. During the process of roasting, the molecular structure of cacao undergoes structural changes reducing enzyme content and overall nutritional value.