To help understand what cacao is, it may help to first explain what it is not.
Cacao is NOT the same as chocolate, although it is a base ingredient of chocolate. Industrially produced chocolate (even the high-end stuff) is heavily processed, which removes 80-99% of the active ingredients found in true cacao.
Ceremonial grade cacao is a whole food and is generally only lightly processed – the beans are fermented, dried, toasted and shelled, before being ground into paste. This paste is then packaged up and sold as ceremonial grade cacao.