Everyone loves chocolate, but not many people know the difference between cacao and cocoa. This article will tell you more about the superfood cacao, the main ingredient behind all your favorite chocolate treats and why it’s such a great ingredient.
When it comes to cacao vs cocoa, most people confuse cacao with cocoa. Yet, despite their similar name, they are quite different in taste, cost, and nutrition. Simply put: cacao is one of the purest essences of chocolate available. It’s completely raw, minimally processed, and high in extremely healthy compounds such as antioxidants. In fact, cacao is often regarded as one of the highest sources of antioxidants while also being a fantastic source of magnesium.
The cacao tree (Theobromo Cacao) produces large cacao pods which are then cracked open by workers to reveal a large amount of cacao beans on the inside. These are then turned into things such as cacao butter and powder. The butter is actually part of the fruit and is found in the outer lining of the cacao bean. If you’ve ever tried cacao butter then you’ll know it’s strong in chocolatey flavor, but holds a similar texture to regular chocolate. Every other part of the bean is then used to make cacao powder for chocolate production.
Cacao powder is a much healthier (though more expensive) version of cocoa powder which can be used to make hot chocolate and various baked goods. Cacao contains lots of fiber and nutrients, antioxidants, natural carbohydrates and protein, but is also higher in calories due to the fat content, though this fat is very good for you. Cacao is a great source of cholesterol-free saturated fats and monounsaturated fats.
There’s also a product called ‘cacao nibs’. These are simply cacao beans that have been diced into smaller, easier to eat pieces. These are great for adding to desserts, cakes, and other mixtures for a more healthy chocolate chip flavor. The nibs are jam packed with fiber and healthy fats, as well as containing a wide selection of minerals and vitamins.
Cocoa is the heated or roasted version of cacao and is more widely available and more well known, and is also cheaper. It commonly comes in the form of cocoa powder. Cocoa is used for cooking and baking, and to make hot chocolate and regular chocolate. There are two main varieties – regular cocoa powder or Dutch-processed (dark cocoa) and are both naturally unsweetened. When buying cocoa powder, make sure not to buy the cocoa mixes that contain sugar, oils, or milk fats.
Cocoa is more processed than cacao because of being treated with heat or roasting and hence can lose a small amount of its nutritional value during the processing. Even so, most of these nutrients are retained in the cocoa and can help provide the body with ample amounts of antioxidants, fiber, and a little bit of protein and fats.
Cacao delivers a more bitter taste, has more calories, and is more expensive than cocoa, but does hold a lot more health benefits because more of the nutrients of the raw cacao bean are still intact. When considering the use of cacao vs cocoa, keep in mind the two are generally interchangeable in recipes for baking and cooking, smoothies, cookies and treats, or for adding to homemade coffee and mocha. Although they will each deliver a different taste and will come at a different cost, cacao and cocoa both contain a good variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrition and are beneficial to include as a part of your diet.
So how are they different, when deciding which chocolatey ingredient to use, cacao vs cocoa? Either one will likely satisfy any chocolate cravings you might have. Cacao is a great choice for getting more nutritional value and a more pure and less-processed form of this chocolatey superfood. If you prefer a less expensive form that has less calories and fats, but still provides an ample source of antioxidants and chocolately flavor, then cocoa is your optimal choice.
Make sure to check out all of our other articles on cocoa to find out the history, pros, cons, and preparation methods for cacao to get you more clued in on this fantastic superfood.