Cacao vs. Cocoa

by Georgia & Elyse on September 21, 2022

Cacao vs. Cocoa

Did you ever notice that some chocolate packages say they contain cacao while others say cocoa? Cacao beans come from the pods of the cacao tree.

male touch a cacao fruit pod attached to the cacao tree wearing all white dark skin

two ripe yellow orange coloured cacao fruit pods attached to the cacao tree ready for harvest

They're processed into chocolate, cocoa, cacao butter, and cacao mass. There are three main types of cacao used in manufacturing chocolate that you find in the grocery stores: dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and white chocolate. Dark chocolate contains about 70% cacao; milk chocolate has around 55%; and white chocolate has less than 45%.

There are several different varieties of cacao plants that grow in Central America, South America, Africa, and Asia. Each variety produces beans with distinctly different characteristics. For example, cacao from Indonesia tends to produce beans that are darker, richer, and sweeter than those grown in Mexico.

Cocoa is the dried pulp left over from extracting the oil from cacao beans. Cocoa butter is the fat found inside the bean itself. Chocolate makers use both kinds of cocoa to make chocolate.

Cacao nibs are simply un-roasted, unshelled cacao beans. They're often sold in bulk, either whole or ground up, and sometimes mixed with sugar or salt. You can find them in many grocery stores, natural foods stores, and online retailers.
The term "cacao" refers to the seeds themselves, whereas "chocolate" refers to the product made from them. When referring to the finished product, however, it's best to stick to "dark chocolate," "milk chocolate," or "white chocolate."
This article tells you the difference between cacao and cocoa and which one's healthier.

Cacao and Cocoa Difference

The main difference between cocoa powder and cacao powder is the way they're treated during processing. Cocoa is roasted at high temperatures, causing chemical changes that make it easier to extract the fat from the bean. This process makes cocoa powder dark and bitter. In contrast, cacao is left raw, meaning it retains some of its natural flavor.
So why do we care about the difference? Because you'll want to use the right one for different recipes. For example, cocoa powder works well for baking, while cacao powder is better suited for savory dishes like sauces and drinks.

Cacao and Cocoa Nutritional Comparison

When it comes to nutrition labels, there are some big differences between cacao and cocoa products. For example, while both contain fiber, cacao contains four times more iron than cocoa. And according to Healthline, cocoa powder has twice as much vitamin A as cacao.
Cacao and cocoa products also differ in terms of calories, fat, protein and carbohydrates. While cacao contains about 60 calories per tablespoon, cocoa has around 80 calories per tablespoon. Also, cacao contains less saturated fat and cholesterol than cocoa. In fact, one cup of dark chocolate contains just over half as many calories as one cup of regular milk chocolate.
The most obvious difference between cacao and cocoa is the color. Cacao is typically darker than cocoa because it contains more antioxidants and flavonoids. However, cacao does contain slightly fewer nutrients than cocoa, so if you're looking for a health boost, go for the latter.

Health Benefits Of Cacao and Cocoa

Cacao contains high levels of antioxidants, making it one of the healthiest foods around. Antioxidants protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which occur naturally inside our bodies. Free radicals can cause cell mutations and even cancer. They can also contribute to ageing skin and hair loss.
Antioxidant activity is found in both the seeds and the pulp surrounding the beans.

Cocoa powder is simply ground up nibs without the bean. This makes the powder less flavorful, but still healthy. For example, chocolate has more calories and sugar than cocoa powder because it's been processed into a paste.

The most common type of cacao used in food production is called "cocoa liquor," which is obtained by pressing un-roasted cocoa beans. Cocoa liquor is then roasted and ground into cocoa powder. This roasting process destroys many of the beneficial nutrients found in the original beans. In fact, the amount of polyphenol antioxidants decreases by about 50 percent after being roasted.

However, there are ways to preserve the healthful qualities of cacao while preserving the taste. Unsweetened cacao nibs contain no added sugars or artificial flavors, and retain the majority of the natural antioxidants present in the fruit. These nibs can be sprinkled over cereal, mixed into oatmeal, or stirred into yogurt. You can also use them in baked goods such as brownies or cookies.

Another cacao product that is extremely healthy and of the highest quality is ceremonial grade cacao. The ceremonial grade signifies that the cacao tree's and farmers are ethically and sustainable sourced direct from farmers in small provinces or villages that honour and respect the cacao tree as tradition passed down from their community elders. Whilst many claim ceremonial grade cacao to exist in many parts of the world, to truly be ceremonial grade it must come from the lands that it originated from.

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The cacao tree naturally grows in Peru at the base of the Andes as well as the historic regions of Mesoamerica which comprises of the modern day countries: northern Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, and central to southern Mexico. For thousands of years, this area was populated by groups such as the Olmec, Zapotec, Maya, Toltec, and Aztec peoples. 


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