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Cocoa  - Theobroma cacao L

Cocoa   ( Theobroma cacao L )

Description
Cacao bean (also Anglicized as cocoa bean,often simply cocoa ) is the dried and fully fermented fatty bean of Theobroma cacao, from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted. They are the basis of chocolate, as well as many Mesoamerican foods such as mole sauce and tejate.

A cocoa pod (fruit) has a rough and leathery rind about 3 cm thick (this varies with the origin and variety of pod). It is filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp (called 'baba de cacao' in South America) enclosing 30 to 50 large seeds that are fairly soft and white to a pale lavender color. While seeds are usually white, they become violet or reddish brown during the drying process. The exception is rare varieties of white cacao, in which the seeds remain white. Historically, white cacao was cultivated by the Rama people of Nicaragua.

Uses
In general chocolate and cocoa is considered to be a rich source of antioxidants such as procyanidins and flavanoids, which may impart anti aging properties. Chocolate and cocoa also contain a high level of flavonoids, specifically epicatechin, which may have beneficial cardiovascular effects on health.

The stimulant activity of cocoa comes from the compound theobromine which is less diuretic as compared to theophylline found in tea. Prolonged intake of flavanol-rich cocoa has been linked to cardiovascular health benefits,though it should be noted that this refers to raw cocoa and to a lesser extent, dark chocolate, since flavonoids degrade during cooking and alkalizing processes.Studies have found short term benefits in LDL cholesterol levels from dark chocolate consumption.[citation needed] The addition of whole milk to milk chocolate reduces the overall cocoa content per ounce while increasing saturated fat levels, possibly negating some of cocoa's heart-healthy potential benefits.[citation needed] Although one study has concluded that milk impairs the absorption of polyphenolic flavonoids, e.g. (-)epicatechin, a followup failed to find the effect.

Hollenberg and colleagues of Harvard Medical School studied the effects of cocoa and flavanols on Panama's Kuna people, who are heavy consumers of cocoa. The researchers found that the Kuna Indians living on the islands had significantly lower rates of heart disease and cancer compared to those on the mainland who do not drink cocoa as on the islands. It is believed that the improved blood flow after consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa may help to achieve health benefits in hearts and other organs. In particular, the benefits may extend to the brain and have important implications for learning and memory.

Foods rich in cocoa appear to reduce blood pressure but drinking green and black tea may not, according to an analysis of previously published research in the April 9, 2007 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine,one of the JAMA/Archives journals.


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