Cocoa, versus cacao. Are they the same thing, or was everyone just using the wrong word when they were talking about cacao nibs? Well folks, I put in the research and we can finally put this mystery to rest.
They’re made from the same plant, but they are different.
All chocolate comes from the Theobrama cacao tree, which is native to South America. This tree produces pods which can be cracked open to obtain the edible, bitter seeds inside known as cacao beans. These beans are usually fermented and dried before being processed any further.
The main difference between the two is in the processing. Depending on the temperature at which the cacao beans are processed, the product is able to remain cacao (low heat), or become cocoa (high heat). This also affects the nutritional benefits and taste of each.
How it’s made: Once the beans have been dried and fermented, they are heated at a very low temperature. The fat is separated from the rest in order to make a variety of products.
Products made from cacao:
Cacao butter: The ‘butter’ makes up the fattiest part of the fruit and can be found on the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. White in colour, with a rich, buttery texture, it looks (and actually tastes) a lot like white chocolate. It’s commonly used in baking, or as a moisturizer.
Cacao nibs: These are actually just cacao beans that have been chopped into smaller pieces. They contain all of the fiber, fat, and nutrients that cacao beans do, so using them instead of chocolate chips won’t taste the same, but is a healthy idea!
Cacao powder: Similar to cocoa powder, but with more fiber, nutrients, and calories as it isn’t processed as heavily. Cacao powder is an incredibly healthy addition to a smoothie or baking with a high amount of monounsaturated fats, cholesterol free saturated fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.
How it’s made: In contrast to cacao, the cocoa process involves processing the beans at a very high temperature. This results in a slightly sweeter flavour, and unfortunately, less of the nutrients being retained.
Products made from cocoa:
Dutch-processed cocoa powder: Also known as dark cocoa, it undergoes extra processing with an alkalized chemical solution to make the product taste richer and less acidic. Although dark cocoa adds those amazing rich and creamy flavours to whatever it’s added to, the additional processing sacrifices the amount of antioxidants and nutrients in the cocoa.
Natural cocoa powder: This product is more acidic and bitter than Dutch processed. You may see it in recipes that call for baking soda as the soda alkalizes the natural cocoa powder.
Cocoa butter: The same as cacao butter but processed at a higher temperature.
Chocolate products: Chocolate chips, bars, etc. Here, cocoa is typically mixed with fat, oils, dairy, and lots of sugar.
Cacao: Cacao has been awarded ‘superfood status’ by many, and for just reason. It has an ORAC score of 98,000 per 100g, which mean that it has over 40 times the amount of antioxidants as blueberries. Cacao is also the highest plant based source of iron, with 7.3mg per 100g, a great source of stress-relieving magnesium, and calcium.
Cocoa: Though processing diminishes the overall health benefits of cocoa, it is still a reasonably healthy option when not containing any added dairy, sugars, fats, or oils. When sold as is, cocoa powder contains the same nutrients as cacao, just at a lower content level. It is less bitter than cacao, and so it’s more commonly used in baking.
How to use them:
You can use both cacao and cocoa powder interchangeably in baking, smoothies, oatmeal, raw desserts, or in drinks like hot chocolates or mochas.
So there you have it. Two delicious products from the same plant, with differing nutritional profiles and tastes. If you’re in the mood for chocolate now, you’ve got to try this Chocolate Avocado Smoothie, featuring cacao (or cocoa) powder and nibs!
Cocoa or Cacao, what’s your preference?