Cacao vs. Cocoa: Which One is Best?
If you’re like most people, you love chocolate. When grocery shopping or browsing through chocolate recipes, you’ve likely come across both cocoa and cacao powders, and you may be wondering what the difference is, and if it matters.
These two products are very similar, but there are some differences that may influence you to choose one over the other. Here, we’ll dive into what exactly these products are and how they’re made, discuss their health benefits, and of course leave you with some delicious recipes to try!
How is Chocolate Made?
In order to understand the difference between cocoa and cacao, it’s helpful to first understand how chocolate is made. Both cocoa and cacao come from the seeds, or “beans” of the Theobroma cacao tree. This tree produces large, pod-like fruits that each contain dozens of cacao beans inside. Once these beans are harvested, they go through a few processing steps, including fermentation, drying, roasting, crushing, and grinding. The result of this process creates a paste, known as cocoa liquor. This liquor contains both nonfat cocoa solids and cocoa butter.
Cocoa and cacao powders are made by removing most of the cocoa butter from the liquor. This removes most of the fat and creates the most concentrated form of chocolate there is.
Alternatively, to make traditional chocolate the liquor is often mixed with other ingredients like sugar, milk, and more cocoa butter, creating a sweeter product. The amount of cocoa liquor in the final products is what determines how dark the chocolate is (ie: 72% dark chocolate).
What’s the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?
While both cocoa and cacao powders taste similar and are interchangeable in recipes, they are each processed differently. It is this degree of processing that makes the difference between the two products.
Cocoa powder is the more processed form. It is roasted at a higher temperature than cacao and often has additional ingredients added to it, such as sugar, to improve the otherwise bitter taste of the powder. This process can remove some of the important nutrients present in the beans.
Cacao powder, which is often labeled as “raw cacao powder,” is the less processed form of the bean. It is roasted at lower temperatures than cocoa and contains no additives. This creates a more nutrient-dense final product.
What Are the Health Benefits of Cocoa and Cacao?
Both cacao and cocoa powders provide health benefits, including:
- Zero grams of sugar in the raw and unsweetened versions
- Excellent source of fiber. 1 serving (~2 Tbsp) of cacao powder provides 5 grams, which is nearly 20% of the daily value
- Good source of plant-based protein, providing about 4 grams per serving
- Great source of the minerals potassium, magnesium, and iron. Just one serving of cacao powder provides 25% of the daily value for magnesium, which supports many bodily processes including sleep, stress, blood sugar levels, and more. The minerals in cacao powder have also been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and plaque buildup in the arteries.
- Rich source of plant compounds called polyphenols, a type of phytonutrient that helps reduce the risk of many acute and chronic diseases.
- One of the richest sources of antioxidants. In fact, cocoa and cacao powder provide more antioxidants than both green tea and red wine.
Recipes To Try:
There are so many ways to use cacao powder, and they don’t all have to be desserts! For less-sweet uses, try mixing a tablespoon or two into oatmeal, or blending some into a smoothie.
If you’re looking for some delicious but healthier chocolate treats, try giving one of these recipes a try:
Both cocoa and cacao provide health benefits and are a more natural, lower sugar, and lower fat version of traditional chocolate. If all you have on hand is cocoa powder, that’s fine to use. However, when you have a choice at the grocery store, reach for the less processed and more nutrient-dense raw cacao powder to satisfy your chocolate cravings while also taking advantage of its awesome health benefits in all of your homemade treats!