Cacao is the fruit of the Theobroma Cacao tree and the main ingredient in chocolate. In 1953, Botanist Carl Linnaeus gave the Cacao tree its scientific name, Theobroma, which translates to “food of the gods” in Greek. Cacao is the Spanish adaptation of the word “Kakaw” – the Mayan word for the cacao tree. The many cacao ceremony benefits extend to the mind, body, and spirit.
A cacao ceremony is a centuries-old ritual used for spiritual and medicinal purposes. It was an intricate part of Mesoamerican cultures. Traditionally, cacao was consumed by royalty and at ceremonial gatherings to facilitate healing, connection, and revelation.
Today, drinking cacao is a popular ritual across the globe as a way to relax the body and clear the mind. Recent findings support ancient wisdom and affirm the many beneficial effects of cacao. While the only way to feel the full power of a cacao ceremony is in a traditional immersive gathering with a facilitator, it is still worth making and drinking cacao in the comfort of your own home.
13 Surprising Cacao Ceremony Benefits
The mind-body connection is a newer concept in western medicine, although our ancestors knew it to be true for centuries. What is good or bad for the mind, is good or bad for the body, and vice versa. You’ll find that many of the cacao ceremony benefits are interconnected. With that, here are 13 cacao ceremony benefits for the mind, body, and spirit.
For the Mind
Did you know that cacao is good for your mental health? That’s right, this superfood not only stimulates your cognitive function but can also help you de-stress, chill out, and get the creative juices flowing.
1. Bring Clarity
Cacao ceremonies bring clarity, but how? You can see things in new ways when you set aside time to get out of your normal frame of mind, gather in a ceremonial way, and set an intention. Cacao ceremonies are traditionally communal. When you gather with others and connect, they may share something about their personal life that may make you think about your own life or circumstance differently.
Setting aside time, with or without others, to intentionally connect, listen, and ponder, will shuffle in new ideas and ways of looking at things. A cacao ceremony facilitates this process by creating a time and space and opening your heart to these new ideas.
2. Invite Peace
Drinking ceremonial cacao is an invitation to slow down and set aside time for yourself. Cacao has high levels of polyphenols, which have vasodilatory effects. This means it can cause blood vessels to widen and improve blood flow through the body. When this happens, your blood pressure drops and you may feel calmer.
Additionally, raw cacao contains magnesium, which has a calming effect on the nervous system. Further, drinking ceremonial cacao regularly can condition you to associate it with peace and allows you to reach that place faster.
3. Foster Creativity
Cacao can be used as a tool to optimize creativity. Try drinking a cup of cacao before engaging in a creative practice – dancing, journaling, painting, sculpting, etc. The act of taking the time to make and drink cacao and the physical benefits that follow can help you drop into your heart. Consequently, you will more easily connect with your creative abilities.
4. Enhance Brain Function
Cacao contains several compounds that improve brain function. It has high levels of flavanols (a polyphenol) which widens blood vessels, increasing blood flow, and therefore oxygen, to the brain. Research shows increased blood flow can have a significant impact on mental focus and attention span, and may help with memory.
The high concentration of antioxidants in cacao reduces oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, which protects critical neurons (which transmit info between the brain). Some of the antioxidants can also help with long-term memory and reduce the risk of disease and stroke.
Additionally, cacao contains important minerals like magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, copper, and zinc which are all essential for brain health and function.
5. Improve Mood
Cacao is believed to aid in the release of negative emotions. Cacao contains serotonin, (a chemical that plays a key role in mood, sleep and so much more), tryptophan (an essential amino acid needed by your body to make serotonin), and anandamide (something the brain produces and is known as the bliss neurotransmitter).
6. Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Thanks to the high concentration of polyphenols, cacao can lower levels of cortisol and detox your body of free radicals (harmful molecules) by increasing the levels of antioxidants in your blood. Cacao contains theobromine, the ingredient in chocolate that is dangerous to dogs. Theobromine is a mild stimulant that some studies show may have mild anti-depressive effects.
For the Body
Cacao ceremony benefits manifest physically through measurable improvement in cardiovascular health, energy, and inflammation.
8. Enhance Energy
As mentioned earlier, cacao contains a mild stimulant called Theobromine. Hence, cacao can provide a gentle boost of energy while improving focus. Cacao can be a great alternative for people who are sensitive to caffeine.
9. Improve Cardiovascular Health
The high concentration of flavonoids (antioxidants) in cacao reduces blood pressure, reduces blood thickness, increases HDL (the “good cholesterol”), and improves insulin resistance. All of these positive effects lower the risk of heart disease.
10. Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Pure cacao, not processed chocolate, has an extremely high concentration of antioxidants. The more pure and less processed the cacao, the higher and more potent the antioxidants.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can come from normal metabolism processes in the body or from harmful substances in the environment (pollution, UV, smoke, chemicals). Free radicals can cause inflammation, aging, disease, and cancer. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals before they cause any harm.
For the Spirit
A traditional cacao ceremony is a spiritual and energetic experience.
11. Open Your Heart
In Ayurvedic medicine, cacao is believed to open your heart chakra – or your heart energy center. Heart opening is one of the most powerful cacao ceremony benefits. Ancient wisdom says that cacao opens your emotional center. This makes you feel connected to yourself and able to listen more clearly to your heart.
Western medicine validates this. Cacao widens the blood vessels, stimulating the heart. It also contains compounds that can improve your mood and elicit feelings of bliss and love.
12. Enhance Meditation
As a heart opener, cacao is thought of as a channel to your inner spirit, enabling you to hear your own wisdom. When you drink cacao before you meditate, you can reach a higher spiritual level, bring peace to your mind and soul, and connect deeper with your intuition.
13. Connect with Your Higher Self
To strengthen your connection with your higher self, drink cacao, or practice a cacao ceremony before you meditate or create. What does higher self mean? It means your intuition, your soul, or your ‘Source’ – whatever that may be for you (God, Goddess, Mother Earth, etc.).
A deeper connection to your higher self enhances your connection to your power, capability, and path. It creates space for self-realization, the ultimate goal.
History of Cacao Ceremonies
The Olmecs, the earliest known mesoamerican civilization, first discovered and used cacao around 1500 B.C. And then the Mayans began using it ritualistically around 600 B.C. and even incorporated it into their creation mythology.
The Cacao beans were used as currency as well as pulverized and mixed with water to create drinking cacao. This mixture was only drunk by elites and during ceremonies (of all types). The cacao was believed to be a gift from the Gods and drinking it calmed the spirit and connected you to the earth. The Mayans believed that cacao restored the balance between humans and nature.
By the end of the 16th and 17th centuries, cacao was being used for medicinal purposes and to experience euphoric feelings. Drinking cacao communally around open fire became a way to connect to the spirits and thank them for all that you had. Fast forward to more modern times, travelers who participated in these ceremonies felt their power and brought the practice back to cities around the world. Cacao ceremonies quickly became popular in many communities for their heart-opening effects and nutritional properties.
Cacao vs Chocolate
Chocolate comes from cacao. The level of processing is the difference between the two. The cacao bean is the rawest form of cacao. It can be consumed directly, cold-pressed into powder (cacao powder), cut up into edible pieces (cacao nibs), or slowly heated to preserve nutrients (cacao paste).
When these beans are processed (roasted at high temperatures) they lose a large percentage of their nutritional value. This is how you make cocoa powder (different from cacao powder which is cold-pressed). Solidifying this powder and adding other ingredients like sugar, milk, butter, etc. makes chocolate. Cacao is quite bitter and chocolate is quite sweet.
For ceremonial purposes, and the health maximum benefits, cacao should be 100% pure, minimally processed, and organic. The goal of a cacao ceremony is to heal and connect with nature and our bodies and hearts, so cacao that is processed and has added ingredients, or was sprayed with pesticides, defeats the purpose and the quality of the ceremony.
Can You Drink Ceremonial Cacao Everyday?
Cacao is loaded with great vitamins and minerals; you could have a ceremonial cacao every day if you like. Of course, as with everything, moderation is something to be mindful of.
There are small amounts of caffeine in cacao so if you are sensitive to mild stimulants, you should be cognizant of drinking it at night. If you are using cacao regularly long term, it’s a good idea to take breaks. A couple of days off a week or a whole week off lets energies settle. Ultimately, listen to your body 🙂 Cacao ceremony frequency is subjective.
Ceremonial Cacao Recipe
This is my recipe – inspired by others. Heat the milk and coconut oil in a pot on the stove. Once it is warm remove it from the heat and add in the other ingredients. Finally, blend it with milk frother.
You can also use a cacao paste (typically in bar form) instead of powder.
- 1 cup of your milk of choice (I use homemade almond milk)
- 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil
- 1 heaping tablespoon of 100% organic ceremonial-grade cacao
- Several dashes of cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon of Reishi (I use Anima Mundi)
As you can see, many of the cacao ceremony benefits are interconnected. What is good for the physical body – improving blood flow – is good for the mind and spirit – opening your heart, improving memory, and improving your mood. It’s all connected!
Cacao works gently on your body, mind, and spirit, rebalancing your chakras, or energies. You have to be intentional and in tune with yourself to sense these benefits. But, studies show that people who are open to the cacao ceremony benefits feel less stress and have a better sense of well-being.
The cacao spiritual benefits can be leveraged in today’s modern world to bring about clarity, calm, and connection. A cacao ceremony ritual can be applied to your creative work, your business, or your personal life. It’s all about the intention you set as you enter a cacao ceremony, and the respect you show to the practice.
Drinking cacao is a ritual I practice several times a week to center myself and set the mood for creative work sessions. I had cacao before writing this blog. I know that when I drink cacao I am doing something good for my mind, body, and spirit.