Like me, you’ve probably seen containers of cocoa powder and even perhaps packages of organic cacao powder and wondered; is there a difference?
For years I truly thought there was none, but I was wrong. Unfortunately, use of the terms “cacao” versus “cocoa” on chocolate products is inconsistent; which confuses matters even more.
These two foods certainly are similar and begin from the same source; seed- pods of the Theobroma cacao tree. The pods are cracked open and the seeds inside, the cacao beans, are where cocoa (for chocolate) and cacao originate. Where they part ways is in the processing; which affects their nutritional value and makes the biggest difference between the two.
While these cacao beans can be eaten raw and are very healthy, they do have an extremely bitter taste. We know chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, has numerous health benefits and is even considered a super-food; with more antioxidants than blueberries. All of the chocolate products we eat are derived from cacao seeds in some form or another.
Both cocoa and cacao are available in various forms including nibs, chips, butter, powder and chocolate bars. Here’s the difference between the two.
While they may look the same, there actually is a difference. Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing, un-roasted cacao beans; preserving the live enzymes in the cacao and removing the fat (cacao butter).
Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures; which changes the molecular structure of the cacao bean, reducing the enzyme content, and lowering the overall nutritional value.
Cacao is rich in minerals; magnesium, iron, potassium, selenium, calcium, zinc, chromium, copper and manganese. It’s also the richest food-source of magnesium. Minimally-processed raw cacao products contain little or no added sugar and are higher in antioxidants than high-processed products.
Minimally-processed cacao has more powerful antioxidant effects and health benefits. One hundred grams of raw cacao powder has an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), rating of 95,500; which represents antioxidant capacity. This drops to 62,100 for cacao nibs, and 26,000 for cocoa powder. Clearly, the more it is processed, the lower the nutritional content.
However, let’s be clear. Cocoa is not “bad” for you; cacao is just more beneficial.
Cacao nibs are just cacao beans that manufacturers have chopped into small pieces. They’re like a less-sweet chocolate chip product, but with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. They retain all the nutrients and antioxidant power of raw cacao beans. You can snack on these all by themselves, add them to a homemade trail mix, or use them in place of chocolate chips. Just don’t expect them to be sweet like the chocolate chips we typically find in the supermarket.
Cacao butter is made from the fattiest part of the cacao bean. It’s white, with a rich, fatty texture. It looks and tastes a bit like white chocolate and you can use it in baking or even as a skin moisturizer.
Let’s briefly talk about cocoa too; there are two types available.
Dutch-processed cocoa, also known as dark cocoa, undergoes additional processing with an alkalized chemical solution to make the taste of the end product richer and less acidic. Unfortunately, this further processing only increases the degradation of all the awesome antioxidants and nutrients.
Natural cocoa powder is slightly more acidic and bitter than Dutch-processed. You’ll find it often in recipes that call for baking soda because the soda alkalizes the natural cocoa powder.
Cocoa or cacao make an amazingly comforting and delicious cup of hot chocolate.
Either one can be used in recipes calling for cocoa powder. I find organic cacao powder in my local Walmart and I use it in my smoothies, hot chocolate and for baking. When choosing a chocolate bar, look for one that lists 70% cacao content or higher; if you want one that will give you the most health bang for your buck.
Which one do you prefer; cocoa or cacao? Please share with us in the comments section below!