March 23, 2020

Healthy Breakfast Hack: Cacao as a Yogurt Replacement

By Jerry Toth

It tastes surprisingly good and the nutritional profile is hard to beat. It also takes about 5 minutes to make. Paleo, vegan, keto-friendly, gluten-free, dairy-free, and powered by theobromine. It’s the perfect breakfast.

*** 

The first meal of the day is an important driver of personal health. If you start out your day by giving your body the nutrients it needs—and not overloading it with the stuff it doesn’t need—you’re already ahead of the game. 

For about ten years straight, my daily breakfast was almost always the same exact thing: yogurt with fruit and granola. And I thought I was doing a good job with that. It’s definitely better than nothing, or donuts. But the yogurt wasn’t entirely agreeing with my body. So I phased out yogurt and most other forms of dairy from my diet, and it worked.

Life without dairy, however, made breakfast more boring. For a while I tried eating fruit and granola alone, but it was dry and unsatisfying. I tried adding nut milks and coconut milks to the mixture, which tasted good enough, but it lacked power.

Around this time, my fascination with cacao farming was starting to ramp up. I started drinking cacao pretty much every morning, initially for the energy boost. I was using it as a coffee replacement—basically upgrading theobromine and downgrading caffeine.

The Bamboo House of the Jama-Coaque Reserve, province of Manabí, Ecuador (www.tmalliance.org). 

Cacao for Breakfast

From an energy perspective, this new morning routine was extremely effective. The energy boost I felt was sustained throughout the day—there was no crash in the afternoon. And at nighttime, I was able to sleep without any issues.

This was around 2010, before cacao became the household name that it is today, in terms of its health benefits. At the time I just really liked how it tasted and how it made me feel, and I had an easy supply because I surrounded our house with cacao trees.

Slowly but surely, I started playing around with recipes. Specifically, I was looking for ways to increase the protein content of my breakfasts. I started adding nut butters, chia seeds, even eggs to my hot morning cacao. These additions naturally gave it more thickness. Eventually it got to the point where it had to be eaten with a spoon rather than sipped as a drink.

Finally, I had the idea of simply pouring my thick cacao brew onto my fruit and granola. In terms of texture, it performs all the functions that yogurt used to perform, but it tastes better and it’s significantly more nutritious. 

Six mornings per week, I start my day with this meal. It’s a breakfast that's tailor-made to launch you into your day—rich with nutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats, protein, and riding high on theobromine.

Contents measured: 1 generous tbsp of cacao powder (12.5 g); 1 tbsp of chia seeds (9 g); 1 tbsp of coconut oil (14 g); 1 tbsp of almond butter (16 g); 1/4 cup of Paleonola granola (28 g); 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries (74 g).

Hot or Not

You don’t need to cook this recipe, if you don’t want to. You can simply throw all of the yogurt-replacement ingredients into a blender, then pour it onto your fruit and granola.

I actually do heat up the ingredientsas you would when making "hot chocolate"but this is simply a matter of preference. For one, I like the taste. The interaction of the hot cacao with the fruit, in most cases, enhances the overall flavor. Why? It’s the same reason why blueberry pancakes and warm peach cobbler taste so good: the so-called Maillard Reaction. The other reason is that we don’t have electricity in the Bamboo House, and therefore don’t have a blender.    

Recipe

There are a few variations. The recipe that will probably have the widest appeal involves only six ingredients: cacao, coconut oil, nut butter, chia seeds, fruit, and granola. For a gluten-free version, just make sure to use gluten-free granola. The same applies if you’re on a paleo diet—use a granola brand like Paleonola. If you’re on a keto diet, simply dial down the fruit and granola. Boosting it with protein powder is also an option. For additional flavor, you can play around with cinnamon, vanilla, turmeric, honey, or whatever else appeals to you. 

Ingredients

 

  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 very generous tablespoon of cacao powder
  • 1 dollop of coconut oil (or MCT oil)
  • 1 dollop of nut butter
  • 1 tablespoon of chia seeds (or flax seeds)
  • Fruit
  • Granola
  • Optional flavorings: cinnamon, vanilla, turmeric, honey, etc.

Instructions

 

  • Heated Version: Add water, cacao powder, and chia seeds to a saucepan. Turn on the heat to medium, and stir until everything is properly integrated. Once the liquid is warm, mix in the coconut oil and nut butter. If you want to give it additional flavoring, go for it. When it starts to bubble, give it maybe one more minute, then remove it from the stove. Pour it over the fruit and granola.
  • Blended Version: Put all ingredients—except for fruit and granola—into a blender, and blend. Then pour onto the fruit and granola. 

 

Cacao Powder Recommendation

Personally, I recommend 100% Organic Cacao Powder by T.cacao, because it’s sourced from heirloom Nacional cacao and because, well, I helped make it (full disclosure). I’ve tried about seven or eight other cacao powders and I really do think T.cacao tastes the best by a noticeable margin. Sure I’m biased, but that’s my honest assessment. One key difference is that we don’t remove the natural cacao butter from our powder, whereas most other brands do. This makes for a creamier final product, which is especially helpful in this particular recipe. 

Coconut Oil Recommendation

A friend of mine recently gifted me a jar of CBD-infused coconut oil from Ojai Energetics—she packed it in her luggage and carried it to Ecuador. They use full-spectrum, water-soluable CBD oil without any synthetic compounds and with quite possibly the highest rate of bioavailability of any other CBD-infused products on the market. Of the ten or so coconut oil products that I've tried, this is my favorite, even purely from a flavor standpoint. The wellness benefits of the CBD oil is an added bonus. 

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