Did you know that chocolate is traditionally a plant medicine? It’s true!

These days, most people regard chocolate as a dessert or treat food, and value it for its sweet, rich flavor.

But its original uses in ancient Mesoamerica were primarily for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.

So it’s fitting that therapeutic effects have always been the focus of East Fork’s bars, which evolved from the Peak Extracts line of chocolates.

Currently, chocolate is a popular consumption method for cannabis extracts, but contemporary researchers are documenting health benefits of chocolate itself, too.

Read on to discover more about chocolate’s fascinating history and relationship with humans.

Origins and History of Chocolate

Chocolate practices emerged among the Indigenous peoples of pre-colonial Mesoamerica, including the Olmec, Maya and Mexica (Aztec) cultures, well before initial European–Mexica contact occurred in 1519. 

Researchers believe that the word cacao is derived from kakaw in the Olmec and subsequent Mayan languages, and the chocolate-related term cacahuatl is from Nahuatl (the Uto-Aztecan language).

According to both the Mayan and Mexica religions, the Gods first discovered cacao in a mountain that also contained other plant foods useful for the people.

Oral histories, stonework, pottery and codices (complex, colorful documents) dating to centuries before the arrival of the Spanish praise cacao and document its use in ritual and everyday life. Cacao beans were used as currency throughout the region. 

Traditionally, chocolate was primarily a beverage –  a bitter and spicy one!

The Maya used cacao, hot water, cinnamon, and pepper to prepare The “Food of the Gods,” a brew used for prestigious ceremonial purposes. The Mexica presented the drink at the table of Emperor Moctezuma II.

In 1544, Dominican friars brought Kekchi Maya nobles to Spain to meet Prince Philip, and these nobles introduced the Spanish court to chocolate (prepared as a beverage, of course).  

Less than a hundred years following this meeting, culinary and medical uses of chocolate had spread throughout Western Europe. Instead of preparing it with chili, Europeans sweetened the drink with spices including cinnamon and vanilla.

After contact with Mesoamerican civilizations, Europeans also began to catalog the agricultural, botanical, economic, geographical, historical, medical and nutritional aspects of cacao and chocolate. 

Interested in more history of chocolate? Read more at the end of this blog.

Current Western Scientific Research on Chocolate

Contemporary research has found that cocoa and chocolate act as “functional foods,” meaning they contain numerous substances that contribute to beneficial health effects.

However, the important caveat is that these positive findings apply only to cocoa and/or dark chocolate: any health benefits that come from chocolate are due to its cocoa content. Any added sugar and dairy only detract from the overall health profile of chocolate.

 Cocoa is rich in antioxidants (including polyphenols, catechins, flavonoids and flavanols) that may help to protect the heart and improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels. (Cannabis flower contains flavanols too!)

 Cocoa powder and chocolate contain abundant flavonoids, including epicatechin, that have neuroprotective effects and a positive influence on cognitive performance.

 Dark chocolate is nutritious, rich in soluble fiber minerals including plentiful amounts of iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese, along with potassium, phosphorus, zinc, and selenium.

And the fatty acid profiles of cocoa and dark chocolate are healthful, made up mostly of the “good fat” oleic acid (which is also found in olive oil). (This heart-healthy fat content also helps the digestive system absorb cannabis more effectively!)

Dark chocolate also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine – however, the amount of caffeine is very small compared with coffee.

Studies have identified positive physiological effects from consuming cocoa, including regulating blood pressure, insulin levels, vascular functions, oxidation processes, prebiotic effects, glucose homeostasis, and lipid metabolism.

Fascinatingly, cocoa powder and chocolate also contain three compounds (classified as unsaturated N-acylethanolamines) which could possibly act as cannabinoid mimics. 

As such, they could potentially activate cannabinoid receptors directly, or indirectly by increasing concentrations of the endocannabinoid neurotransmitter anandamide (“the bliss molecule”).

While cocoa bean products do contain very small amounts of anandamide itself, it’s thought that any cannabis receptor effects are mainly produced by these similar compounds which slow the breakdown of the brain’s naturally produced anandamide, thus intensifying its effects.

Scientists also note chocolate’s “aphrodisiac and antidepressant properties” and “organoleptic characteristics,” aka sensory delights. 

So with that in mind, now imagine infusing dark chocolate with high quality cannabis oil: talk about a “superfood!”

East Fork Cultivars’ Chocolate-Making Process

Though our East Fork chocolates have beautiful new packaging, our production process remains the same as when creating the original Peak bars that were formulated for their therapeutic benefits.

To start, all of the cannabis source material for our chocolate lines comes from the East Fork Ranch in Takilma and like-minded sungrown farmers in our region.  

On the state-licensed (OLCC/Oregon) product side, we also extract the cannabis material ourselves to create a premium quality full-spectrum oil.

We use a very refined CO2 extraction process that preserves as much of the cannabis plant matrix as possible, including terpenes, secondary cannabinoids, and flavonoids.

After we extract the oil, we get it tested for purity and potency. Once we know the batch’s potency, we calculate the formula to make a consistent, standard ratio of cannabis oil to chocolate.

Our chocolate base is a premium 70% dark couverture – a European term for a certain class of high-quality chocolate that is ground to a finer texture during the production process and contains a greater percentage of cocoa butter relative to the other ingredients. 

These distinctions yield a superior flavor and texture, and make couverture especially good for artisan chocolate-making due to the fluidity of the extra cocoa butter.

The extra fluidity also lends itself well to infusing. We use a special machine and careful process to melt the couverture and mix it consistently with cannabis oil until the correct ratio is reached, avoiding excess heat that could degrade the quality.

There is separate equipment for the hemp-based product side, though the process is similar.

We don’t ever add any dairy to our chocolates, and there is no dairy in the couverture itself (though it may be manufactured on shared equipment by the maker).

A different machine then tempers the chocolate and deposits it into molds. It’s not fully automated, so there is careful human involvement in each step.

Once the chocolate is cool, we remove the bars and do a thorough quality control process by hand.  

Each bar is then weighed, trimmed, and packaged for its final destination.

Our Chocolate Lines

We’ve consciously designed the East Fork range of chocolate bars to allow for a variety of experiences, both from state-licensed cannabis shops as well as the open hemp market.

On the Oregon state-licensed product side, our Peak-branded bars offer ratioed blends for consistent effects in the Indica, Sativa, and Hybrid categories. 

Within these broad categories, each batch of bars offers cultivar-specific information on the small-print product label. 

In this way, we can provide useful consumer info and showcase the particular source plants used for that bar, while also reducing packaging waste.

Our hemp-based chocolates offer two ratioed blends: CBD 1:1 THC, and CBD 33:1 THC

These full-spectrum bars create different experiences from one another and fulfill the need for a consistent product that will always be available.

Recently, we also launched our Cultivar Series on the hemp side: bars made with single-sourced plants that highlight the unique terroir and effects of each cultivar. 

The first two bars in the Cultivar Series are Blue Orchid and Sour Pineapple, two of our flagship East Fork hemp varieties created by our plant breeding team.

Both bars are made with full-spectrum extract rich in terpenes and minor cannabinoids, and boast a potent 20:1 CBD-to-THC ratio (approximately 200mg of CBD and 10mg of THC).

Blue Orchid lends subtle flavors to its namesake bar including tart blueberry, rosewater, and a hint of spice. 

The dominant terpene is Beta-Myrcene, accompanied by alpha-Pinene, Terpinolene, and beta-Caryophyllene.

The Blue Orchid bar is formulated for mellow, relaxing, and calming effects – a perfect nightcap.

Meanwhile, the Sour Pineapple bar offers a counterpoint in effects: focused, with a lift in energy and sociability.

It has notes of lemon, pine, and sandalwood. Terpinolene is the dominant terpene, accompanied by beta-Myrcene, beta-Caryophyllene, and Ocimene.

We’re proud to continue – in our own modern way – the tradition of chocolate as a functional, beneficial, even ceremonial partaking. 

And we’re excited to continue creating an array of new offerings that blend these two incredible plants, cacao and cannabis, in new and helpful ways.

Stay tuned for the addition of new cultivars and experiences to our chocolate lines!

Origins and History of Chocolate, Continued

Amongst the hundreds of ancient accounts, a few early documents stand out with important information about the use of cacao/chocolate for medicinal purposes: the Badianus Manuscript (1551), Florentine Codex (1590), and Princeton Codex or Ritual of the Bacabs (a Mayan-language codex found in 1914 in Yucatán).

Notably the Badianus Manuscript is bilingual, written in Nahuatl and Latin, and explains both Mexica disease concepts and healing techniques. It documents the properties of local animal, vegetal and mineral medicines – including the use of cacao flowers to treat fatigue, for example.

The Florentine Codex described in detail the preparation of various cacao decoctions and identified the illnesses appropriate for treatment using cacao. For example, it prescribes a concoction of cacao beans, maize and the herb tlacoxochitl (Latin name Calliandra anomala) to alleviate fever and panting of breath, and to treat “the faint of heart.”

Ensuing manuscripts in the 16th to early 20th century documented more than a hundred medicinal uses for cacao/chocolate. 

It was used both as a primary treatment and as a vehicle to deliver other medicines – either as a beverage, or in some instances, cacao was added to improve the flavor of medicinal preparations. In Europe, chocolate paste became a medium used to administer drugs and to counter the taste of bitter pharmacological additives. 

The Mayan word cacao entered Western scientific nomenclature in 1753 after the Swedish naturalist Linnaeus published his taxonomic system. He coined the genus and species Theobroma cacao, blending Greek and Mayan languages to signify “food of the gods.”

The subsequent history of chocolate is an archetypal example of colonialist and capitalist practices: the commercialization and mass-production of it as a consumer product, and the shift in the 1800s of cocoa plantations from the Americas to Asia and Africa. 

These days, the world’s largest regional producer and exporter of cocoa beans is Africa (especially Côte d’Ivoire).

However, Indigenous peoples throughout Central and South America continue to use cacao as medicine today, including different components of the tree such as cacao bark, fat, flowers, fruit pulp and leaves.

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