The Herb of the Month for February 2020 is Cacao Theobroma cacao.
This month we celebrate the “food of the gods” which is the Latin name for Cocoa, a plant that is native to Central and South America. Cacoa has been appreciated by the human family since about 600BC with the Mayan civilization being the first to cultivate it. During the Aztec period the beans were used as currency. The drink was reserved for the nobility for its health benefits and also to reduce fatigue. Then and today, chili and vanilla are often added to the hot chocolate drinks south of our border. At this time, most of our chocolate comes from Africa.
This interesting understory tree develops clusters of flowers on its trunk, which when pollinated develop into very large fruits. The red, yellow, purple or brown pods will contain anywhere from 20 to 60 seeds or cacao beans which are then dried and fermented on mats in the sun.
During this labor intensive process the seeds will be roasted, then cracked and ground into the paste which is called mass. From this ‘mass’ the fat is removed resulting in cocoa butter and cocoa solids.
The solids are again ground, and blended, and used in the production of cocoa powder or chocolate.
Each geographical region of the world produces a unique tasting chocolate because of the climate and the soil. It is the blending of these various cacao beans which result in the unique tasting chocolates produced by chocolatiers from around the world.
RECIPES FOR CACAO
(Cacao refers to the plant – Cocoa refers to the products made from the roasted seeds)
Mexican Hot Chocolate
- 2 cups milk
- 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 ½ teaspoon plus sugar according to your taste.
- Combine and heat in a pan. Make adjustments according to your taste. Traditionally, ground and toasted almonds or pecans can be added to the mix for additional taste interest. Try using one tablespoon in your cup.
- 2 Tablespoons olive or avocado oil
- 1 large onion chopped and roasted
- 1 pound ground beef or bison stir and saute into onions until browned
- 14 ounce can of fire roasted diced tomatoes added to meat and onions.
- 1 can kidney beans
- 1 can white beans
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons cumin
- 2 Tablespoons chili powder
- 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
- cayenne pepper or chile sauce according to taste
- Adjust your seasoning according to your families preferences. Our family enjoys additional vegetables in our chili, such as ½ cup of carrots and ½ cup celery, each chopped into small pieces. We also like to add a can of well drained corn shortly before serving.