Benefits of ceremonial cacao according to science

Benefits of ceremonial cacao according to science

You may have heard that the benefits of ceremonial cacao are amazing and can transform body and mind. But what exactly are they? This article explains all you need to know about the benefits of ceremonial cacao - according to science.

benefits of ceremonial cacao

Ceremonial cacao is an ancient food that’s been used in Mayan and Aztec culture for centuries. And that’s because not only is it full of nutrients and compounds that help your body function better, it’s also packed with substances that act on your brain to improve your mood, open your mind and help you better connect with yourself and the world around you.

Known as the food of the gods, cacao beans were so treasured by the Aztecs and Mayans that they originally used them as a currency, and also to make offerings to the gods. 

And they were used in cacao ceremonies because cacao is known to open your heart and connect you with your inner wisdom.

Sound too good to be true?

Let’s take a closer look at the physical and spiritual benefits of ceremonial cacao - and what science has to say about them. 

 ceremonial cacao

Key benefits of ceremonial cacao

If you know a ceremonial cacao fan, they’ve probably told you its key benefits:

  • sustained energy boost
  • increase mental clarity
  • improved mood
  • heart opening
  • increased intuition
  • feeling more alive
  • good for heart and brain health


And it’s true - a high quality, minimally processed cacao can make you feel amazing. But all cacao isn’t created equally and you won’t get these benefits if you choose the wrong type of cacao.


So, before we dive deeper into the physical and spiritual benefits of cacao, it’s worth getting clear on what ceremonial cacao is, how it differs from the normal type of cacao you may get from the store, and which delivers the benefits you’re after.

 ceremonial cacao drink

What is ceremonial cacao?

A better question to begin with is probably, what is cacao?


When we talk about cacao at 8 Within, we really mean cacao paste - that’s the whole cacao bean that’s been ground down into a paste.


We call it cacao instead of cocoa simply because that’s the term chocolate makers generally use to refer to beans that haven’t been massively processed.


(In reality, there's no official difference between cacao and cocoa. Cacao is how it's pronounced in its native Central America, but when Europeans discovered cacao during colonisation, they began to mispronounce it as 'cocoa' and that stuck.)


Regardless of what you call it, minimally processed cacao is superior to ultra processed versions because the substances responsible for cacao’s benefits are usually damaged or removed by excessive processing - that's the type of processing (at very high temperatures) that’s done to produce the cheap cocoa powder you’ll find in many supermarkets.


And cacao butter - the naturally occurring fat in cacao beans - is also removed to make cocoa powder.


So, with cacao, you’re getting a wholefood - the whole bean with nothing removed. With cocoa, you’re getting a highly processed, nutrient depleted powder that’s been stripped from the bean.


So, that’s cacao explained, but what makes some types of cacao ceremonial?

 what is ceremonial cacao


What’s the difference between ceremonial cacao and cacao?

There’s no agreed definition of ceremonial cacao and it’s a term that really has no true meaning. That’s why we refer to our cacao as ceremonial-grade. This phrase is basically a nod to the quality of the cacao and the intention with which it has been produced.


If you dig into the history of the cacao/cocoa/chocolate trade, you’ll discover it has a very dark past that’s centred around child labour, human exploitation and destruction of the environment.


Ceremonial-grade cacao is cacao that has been made with respect to the plant, environment and those producing the cacao. This means that it is:


  1. In its pure, traditional form
  2. Made from heirloom strains from Central and South America
  3. Intentionally produced
  4. Sustainably made
  5. Minimally processed


Finally, ceremonial cacao is general used to elevate body, mind and soul, rather than purely to taste good - like modern-day chocolate is used.


So that’s a crash course in ceremonial cacao. And now you better understand what it is, let’s explore its key benefits.

ceremonial cacao v cocoa

Physical benefits of cacao

Steady energy boost with no crash

Cacao is a great source of a gentle stimulant called theobromine - in fact, that’s the substance it’s named after (cacao’s scientific name is Theobroma cacao). And theobromine is good stuff because it opens the blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the brain, heart, lungs and all over the body.


This increased rush of blood flow is a big reason why it’s common to get a sense of euphoria and increased alertness after drinking ceremonial-grade cacao - your brain, heart and lungs are now filled with way more oxygen-rich blood than before. 


Improves mood

Ceremonial cacao is known as a ‘high vibe’ plant medicine because a single cup really can lift your spirits. This is largely down to the effects of theobromine, but it’s also because cacao contains some compounds that are known to improve mood.


This includes:

  • Magnesium - a mineral linked to improved depression and anxiety due to its ability to switch on the anti-stress arm (parasympathetic) of the nervous system
  • Phenylethylamine - a natural mood enhancer that encourages the release of feelgood chemicals, known as endorphins, from the brain
  • Three indirect plant cannabinoids - molecules that encourage the brain to produce the bliss molecule anandamide, which helps you relax and feel good.
  • Tryptophan - the precursor for the mood-boosting molecule serotonin, which is naturally made in the brain and gut.
  • Tryptamine - the backbone of the so-called 'God molecule' DMT, which can help alter how you see the world. DMT is naturally made in the body (in tiny amounts) but also found in psychedelic drugs


Some research suggests that these substances may not have a big effect on mood because all (except for magnesium) are broken down in the gut by enzymes called monoamine oxidases (MAOs) and so would only be present in the body in tiny quantities.


But cacao contains substances called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) that block the action of MAOs. So it’s thought that cacao delivers enough serotonin, tryptophan, and phenylethylamine to the body to produce a noticeable effect on mood.

Anti ageing and good for heart and brain health

Cacao is one of the best sources of antioxidants (namely flavonoids and polyphenols) on the planet. 


These antioxidants fight cell-damaging molecules called free radicals that otherwise cause cell damage and cell ageing.


Flavonoids are also great for the heart, with research showing they can help lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain and heart.


Further research has also shown that epicatechin, a specific flavonoid in cacao, may help increase brain function and blood flow. 


Spiritual benefits of ceremonial cacao

Unlike the physical benefits of ceremonial cacao, the spiritual benefits are really centred on anecdotal evidence - ‘the reported experiences of people’. But that doesn’t’ mean they’re less valid.


Cacao ceremonies hail from Mayan and Aztec traditions in which they were used to not only give thanks to gods, but also for

  • spiritual guidance
  • healing
  • inner awakening
  • deeper meditation 


And these remain the main spiritual benefits of cacao today. In short, it helps to reconnect you with yourself, unlock the wisdom you have within you, improve you meditation experience, heal your soul and let go of beliefs that are holding you back.

ceremonial cacao drink

Want to experience the effects of ceremonial cacao for yourself?

Everyone’s experience with cacao is different, but for many it can be truly transformative.

If you’re feeling drawn to trying cacao for yourself, get started with our range of cacao elixirs.


They’re made from pure Peruvian ceremonial-grade cacao and hand blended with potent medicinal plant extracts to help you achieve a specific state of mind: boost intuition, feel happier, get grounded.

Oh and they’re so creamy and delicious.

This article was a complete guide to the benefits of ceremonial cacao. 


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