Monday, 6 April 2009


Bear with me here. Not an immediately obvious link to ballet dancers I know, but...

Cacao, the chocolate beans, were first used thousands of years ago and the Aztecs followed in the footsteps of the Mayans and made xocoatl or xocolatl, which was basically a bitter drink of fermented & roasted cacao with chilli & other spices & ingredients. It sounds unpalatable to say the least but it was valuable because of it's energy-giving properties. It's also full of vitamins and minerals; it's a powerful antioxidant and it contains theobromine - the chocolate equivalent of caffeine - a stimulant.

Once cacao spread to the Europeans, via Christopher Columbus, the drink was made with milk, vanilla and honey rather than chilli & presumably started to taste a whole lot better.

Over many centuries, chocolate became less expensive and more widely available, not just as a drink but as a solid bar.

The trouble is, the chocolate we know today with all it's additives and sugar, bears no resemblence to the early discovery, and consequently much of it's nutritional content, and it's energy-giving properties, has been lost.

But.... there is a way to get them back !

Last year Channel 4 broadcast a series of films following Willie Harcourt-Cooze on his chocolate adventures. He wanted to make 100% cacao using the beans from his Venezuelan hacienda, processing them by fermenting, drying, shipping to the UK (he has a factory in Devon), roasting, shelling, grinding, refining, conching and finally tempering. The resulting cacao is a cooking ingredient but is also for making a chocolate drink which gives a tremendous sense of well-being and is quite unlike any other.

I've heard that Willie is taking part in scientific experiments this year to test these findings, and Channel 4 are following him again (starting this week) as he experiments with new versions of his cacao.

What intrigues me about this is how beneficial would the chocolate drink (which can apparently keep you going all day when there is no time or desire to eat), be to dancers with their punishing schedules ? It's quite well known that some dancers drink Red Bull for energy before a performance and I wonder how a chocolate drink would compare ?

It's very easy to make once you have bought some of the cacao (check the title link for a full list of stockists). Willie has written a charming book, including some recipes, which is available now from all good retailers.

I'd be interested to hear whether any dancers have tried this cacao, and if not then I hope this blog inspires you to try (even if you don't dance)!

I am something of an experimental cook - and I use the word loosely - but I had a go at Willie's Cloud Forest cake because the name totally seduced me and it didn't look too difficult. It wasn't. And it was delicious and quite unlike any other chocolate cake. Of course, I didn't have the cloud forest sugar which is available in Venezuela, and can only imagine how that must have tasted.....

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