We’ve all heard how chocolate can help make women less snarly during PMS & anyone who enjoys wine knows how lovely that libation is with a nice, dark square or 2, or 10. What you may be less familiar with are some of the other non-culinary ways that you can benefit from cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter (or Theobroma Cocoa as it’s known when around its Latin friends) comes directly from the cacao plant native to Central & South America. Once the cacao beans have been dried & roasted, the butter is pressed out & the remaining cacao solids are what are used to create cocoa powder.
When making chocolate these 2 cocoa siblings, separated at birth, are reunited & have sugar & milk added in varying amounts which dramatically ups the yumminess factor but (spoiler alert!) also the caloric factor.
Loathe as we are to admit it, one can get many of the benefits of cocoa butter without actually indulging in a chocolate bar (that said, heaven help the man who tries to point out this little tidbit of info during *that* week…..).
Cocoa butter has a low melting point .. cue the sticky mess in your kid’s jeans pocket .. right about at body temperature. This is handy .. pun most definitely intended .. since at room temp it can be quite hard but starts to soften up immediately as it sits in your palm.
The history of cocoa butter is a story all its own, but to sum up thousands of years in one paragraph .. long before the Cocoa bean became synonymous with Belgium, the Cacao tree & the cacao bean were used by both the Mayans & the Aztecs for the health benefits, haircare, deliciousness & quite possibly even as currency! Cacao drinks were used by these early cultures for many celebratory occasions, much as a fine wine might be consumed today.
With exploration from Spain this humble, not-so-little bean made its way across the big blue in the 1600’s where, despite the Spaniards best efforts to keep it secret, it quickly caught the fancy of Europeans. Little surprise that some of its first decadent uses were in Paris; drunk at (one of) the marriages of King Louis XIII, & home to the 1st known chocolate-confectionary.
Cocoa powder was first accomplished in the Netherlands in 1828 (hence, the ‘Dutch Chocolate’ we all know from childhood….) Eventually, due in no small part to the rampant, insatiable desire of the Europeans for this sweet, gooey wonder, Cacao trees were brought to Africa & still grow there today, & Africa is now the world’s largest producer.
So, what exactly ARE some of the bennies for your health & skin of applying, rather than ingesting, this delightful pale yellow substance known as Cocoa Butter….
‘Uhhh, where have you BEEN all my life?!?!’ you ask. Well, at least you found it before it’s too late, right? Cocoa butter makes many claims on the anti-aging front. Though we are in no way trying to put these statements out there as established fact, there are reasons to be optimistic.
You’ve heard of collagen, right? No, not the co-ed place where you frittered away your late teens/early 20s. Collagen: that most coveted product of bodies still too young to realize how much they’ll miss it when their skin eventually starts to thin & lose its elasticity. Some studies show that cocoa butter can actually help encourage the body to keep producing collagen. Amazing, no?!
Relief for Skin Conditions
If you’ve ever suffered from eczema, dermatitis or psoriasis or know someone who has, you know how beloved the relief is from these conditions. Studies seem to show that cocoa butter’s anti-inflammatory properties can not only help alleviate the itching & burning associated w/ many skin irritations & rashes but can also help stop the production of immunoglobulin, which is what triggers the body’s reaction in the 1st place.
Chocolate as Health food?!
“What is health? It is chocolate!” (attributed to Anthelme Brillat-Savarin)
Soooo, you’re not going to want to make cocoa butter a LARGE portion of your diet .. unless of course your goal is to consume a diet of world-record-worthy caloric content. Thank god calories can’t be absorbed through the skin, so using cocoa butter topically won’t add to the waistline.
Can I get an amen?! BUT, cocoa beans are considered to be in the ‘super-food’ group (where’d I put that cape??) along with blueberries, acai, green tea, etc & cocoa butter is believed to be loaded with polyphenols micronutrients that have a myriad of benefits: anti-oxidant, cancer & inflammation-fighting, heart health, the list goes on.
Many of these are super helpful in assisting the body to neutralize free radicals, those pesky little buggers that we’re all warned against in hushed tones but few ordinary folk seem entirely sure how to find .. under the bed w/ the monsters & dust-bunnies, maybe? It’s free radicals we can blame for much of our aging, wrinkles, age spots & the dreaded crow’s feet, not to mention their contributions to the more serious conditions mentioned above.
Those same antioxidants that help root-out the free-radical beasties can also help keep the scalp & hair follicles happy as we grow older. Stearic, Palmitic, Oleanic & Lauric acids can all contribute not only to helping keep the scalp softer & keep those follicles pumping out healthy hair, but they also do a bang-up job of moisturizing the hair strands, making them more pliable & less likely to break.
Applying before &/or after the pool or beach days can help reduce the stress load on your hair from the sun, salt & chlorine exposures. Besides, all the Central & South American people that have been using it for 1000s of years can’t be wrong, right?
If you’ve never heard of oil-pulling, it’s a thing where you swish some sort of natural oil around in your mouth for 1-5 minutes every morning for the purpose of extracting toxins from your body. Do you know that ‘morning-breath’ thing? Yeah, toxins are supposed to be a major player in that.
So anyway, some say that using cocoa butter as the oil, as opposed to the more commonly used coconut oil, is a good thing. Also, because cocoa butter has antibacterial elements some claim that it can be used in the mouth to help w/ canker sores, or that irritating spot on your cheek that you keep biting.
Ok, so one of the biggest claims of the cocoa butter cheerleaders is its kickass moisturizing capability! The fact that it goes on velvety-smooth only adds to the oo-la-la factor. It absorbs quickly so it doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re a greasy spoon, but at the same time, it somehow leaves your skin w/ a soft & supple armor-plating that guards against water loss & helps keep your body hydrated.
It’s recommended to apply cocoa butter after showering before you’ve completely dried off in order to help lock in even more of the moisture. If you live somewhere that gets actual winters, this can be a lifesaver when that thermometer drops through the floor & the wind feels like it has a personal vendetta against your skin.
Some people who are prone to acne find that it can over-moisturize & cause break-outs, so if you have naturally oily skin, be aware of this & maybe avoid slathering it all over your face & opt for spot-treatment there.
Fades Scars & Stretch-marks .. maybe
The jury is still deliberating on this one. Some people swear by cocoa butter for during/post-pregnancy reduction of stretch marks & you’re likely to find some amounts of it in the vast majority of stretch mark-reducing creams.
Others say research shows no difference between those who used cocoa butter & those who were treated with a placebo. The same is also said for treatment of scars. We think it probably depends on each individual’s body & it’s going to be the non-drug-wonder-drug for some & have no discernable difference for others.
So, whether you’re gobbling down the deep-dark chocolate squares & chasing them with a nice Malbec, or you’re applying the melty-magic as a chaser to your daily shower, it seems to us that there’s really no way to go wrong with cocoa butter .. enjoy the process of sleuthing it out for yourself to see what works for you!