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Exploring Ceremonial Cacao: The Myths and Realities of Bean Types and Theobromine Effects

Introduction:

Ceremonial cacao is experiencing a surge in popularity as a spiritual and healing plant medicine. Despite its growing use, misconceptions about ceremonial cacao, its origins, the types of beans used, and the effects of its compounds, particularly theobromine, persist. This paper aims to clarify these points, focusing on the production of theobromine in fermented vs. unfermented cacao beans, and discussing the varying levels of theobromine in each type.

Cacao Beans and Ceremonial Cacao:

Cacao beans, seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, are indigenous to Central and South America. They are the fundamental ingredient in both chocolate and ceremonial cacao, the latter being cultivated, harvested, and processed with specific intentions for use in spiritual or ceremonial contexts.

Fermented vs Unfermented Cacao Beans:

Fermentation is a pivotal step in chocolate production that also impacts the composition of theobromine in cacao beans.

Additionally, a process known as “cacao lavado” involves washing fermented beans to remove any remaining pulp, potentially leading to a cleaner, milder flavor. While this method is often employed in specialty cacao production, its influence on theobromine content remains understudied.

Potential Benefits of Unfermented Cacao:

However, these claims are primarily anecdotal, and scientific research in this area is limited.

Theobromine and Caffeine in Cacao Beans:

Differences in Theobromine Levels:

Theobromine levels in cacao beans are influenced by the bean variety, growing conditions, fermentation, and processing. While both fermented and unfermented beans contain theobromine, the levels may vary.

Conclusion:

For those intrigued by ceremonial cacao, understanding the production of theobromine in different cacao bean types is essential. Fermentation significantly influences flavor development and the composition of bioactive compounds, including theobromine. Further research is needed to explore the specific effects of theobromine and caffeine in ceremonial cacao and their contributions to the overall experience.

References:

  1. Efraim P, et al. Influence of cocoa beans fermentation and drying on the polyphenol content and sensory acceptance. Ciência e Tecnologia em Alimentos. 2010.
  2. Hernandez CH, et al. Evaluation of different fermentation processes for use by small cocoa growers in Mexico. Food Sci Nutr. 2016.
  3. Smit, H. J., & Blackburn, R. J. Reinforcing effects of caffeine and theobromine as found in chocolate. Psychopharmacology, 2005.
  4. Bogaard, B. V. D., et al. Effects of peripheral and central blood pressure of cocoa with natural or high-dose theobromine: a randomized, double-blind crossover trial. Hypertension, 2010.
  5. Kelly, C. J. Effects of theobromine should be considered in future studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2015.
  6. Usmani, O. S., et al. Theobromine inhibits sensory nerve activation and cough. The FASEB Journal.
  7. Grases, F., et al. Theobromine inhibits uric acid crystallization. Potential application in the treatment of uric acid nephrolithiasis. PLoS One, 2014.

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