CACAO VS COCOA – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Although the names are similar and they are derived from the same plant, there are significant differences between cacao and cocoa – in processing, flavour and nutritional value!
Both cacao and cocoa come from the cacao bean of the Theobroma cacao tree. The key difference between the two lies in how the cacao bean is processed after harvesting and how the health benefits are altered as a result of this processing. Cocoa powder, the highly processed form, is roasted at very high temperatures and is typically supplemented with additives to cut the bitterness, either an alkalizing chemical solution in the case of Dutch-processed or alkalized cocoa, or with sugar and other additives, as found in milk chocolate. Cacao powder on the other hand, which is often labelled as “Raw Cacao Powder,” is the minimally processed form of the bean that maintains the nutritionally dense properties of the cacao seed.
SIGNS OF A SUPERFOOD
Cacao is the minimally processed form of chocolate that is robust in flavour and maintains all the impressive nutrients that make it a superfood. It comes directly from the cacao tree where it’s found in colourful pods that are filled with large cacao seeds, called cacao beans. When these beans are naturally fermented, roasted at low temperatures and cold-pressed, cacao powder is the result.
THE PROCESSING DIFFERENTIATION
While cocoa comes from the same source (cacao beans), it refers to highly processed cacao. Cocoa manufacturers roast the beans at high temperatures and many add preservatives, textural agents and sugar or sweeteners to the powder as well. These processes and additives take the bitter edge off the bean (a bitterness that is indicative of its nutritional potency), flatten the rich chocolate flavour and/or increase the shelf life of processed cocoa.
In their purest forms, both cacao powder and unsweetened cocoa powder taste similar: like unsweetened chocolate. Their health benefits are where the biggest variances occur. Minimally processed cacao powder is an abundant source of minerals (iron, magnesium and potassium), fibre and those unique antioxidants called flavanols, which support cardiovascular and brain health. After cacao has been heated at high temperatures, many of these beneficial nutrients degrade and are no longer significantly present in the powder.
CAN CACAO POWDER BE USED AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR COCOA POWDER?
Yes! You can easily swap Cacao Powder in any recipe that calls for regular cocoa for an instant health boost! Chocolate cake? No problem. Simply substitute the recipes call for cocoa powder or natural cocoa with minimally processed Cacao Powder.
So in a nutshell, both cocoa and cacao will provide benefits – any time low-sugar chocolate is consumed can be considered a smart treat. Yet, cacao is clearly the most nutrient-dense form of this superfood. If you’re not doing so already, lean on cacao to satisfy your chocolate cravings and enjoy an entirely new level of energizing health!