What is the difference between cocoa and cacao?

What is the difference between cacao and cocoa?

What is the difference between cocoa and cacao? Other than a few rearranged letters, at first glance your answer might be “not much.” I have spent more than a few trips to the grocery store scratching my head, wondering if the more cost-efficient cocoa was really the same as the more expensive cacao.

Well, here’s the answer: cacao and cocoa are the same thing. Yet very different.

The technical difference

The Cacao Tree (Theobroma cacao if you’re into botany-speak) is the tree from which the cacao bean comes. Cacao beans are found inside the “fruit” of the tree, in football-sized pods. When we see “cacao nibs” or “powdered cacao” for sale, we are seeing the bean in its raw state, uncooked and unprocessed. After the beans are cleaned, roasted and processed, they are called “cocoa.”

The nutritional difference

Cacao and cocoa are both antioxidant powerhouses, though cacao is significantly more powerful. ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a method of measuring antioxidants in biological samples. It is likely not something you typically consider as much as calories or other nutritional facts, but it is useful when comparing apples to oranges. Or, er, cocoa to cacao. Per 100 grams:

  • Raw cacao powder has an ORAC value of 95,500
  • Raw cacao nibs have an ORAC value of 62,100
  • Roasted cocoa powder as an ORAC value of 26,000

Raw cacao powder therefore has significantly more antioxidant power. To boot, raw cacao is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, fiber, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, calcium and sulfur. Unfortunately, once roasted and processed, cacao, now cocoa, loses much of its nutritional benefits.

the difference between cacao and cocoa

You can buy raw cacao in health food stores and online. You can buy both nibs (great to use as you would chocolate chips, though not nearly as sweet) and powder (which I have found to be much more convenient and versatile). I use cacao powder as a substitute for cocoa in baking recipes, occasionally stir a little into my milk (mmm) and, more recently, to make these salty, sweet and crunchy superfood snack bites.


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32 Responses to What is the difference between cocoa and cacao?

  1. How does the heat of baking affect the ORAC of raw cacao? If I’m going to bake a high heat, is there really any benefit to using cacao instead of cocoa? Thanks!

  2. you didn’t say if there’s a difference in taste or if you treat them differently when you substitute one for the other in baking.

  3. Oh sorry, Lynne! I will be sure to add that – I personally cannot tell a difference in taste. Sweetened cocoa will of course taste different, but I have both cacao and unsweetened cocoa in my pantry and find they have the same taste.

  4. If you use cacao for baking, does it lose the nutritional value? I would think it does if roasting it kills the nutrients, but I’m not sure. I definitely want all of those yummy minerals, but am concerned about losing them in baked goods.

  5. I just purchased organic cocoa powder at a health food store and the clerk told me cocoa and cacao were the same. He said that the Europeans spelled it cacao! I now know better. Thank you for the explanation.

  6. Does the cacao have phytic acid? Phytic acid chelates minerals in the intestinal track so all those great levels of minerals may not make it into your body. This is why people activate and/or roast nuts, to reduce the phytic acid levels. Beans also have phytic acid. I know soaking is the way people reduce the phytic acid in beans.

  7. I have the raw cacao beans but in order to get the outside husks or sleeves off, I have to roast them. Now the sleeve is easily removed and they look like coffee beans. So because I’ve roasted them, does this now make them cocoa? Or is there another process of heating that turns them into cocoa?

  8. I use raw cacao powder to make a wonderfully nutritious avocado/banana chocolate pudding that my toddler absolutely LOVES. I’ve also been wondering whether using raw cacao powder in baked goods reduces its nutrient content. I haven’t found an answer to this yet.

  9. Ooh that’s a lot! It should say on their website. I’m not sure. I’d think a pretty long time, though.

  10. Where I’m from we use cocoa/cacao is most of desserts and we drink it everyday but just adding hot water and sugar.

  11. I have been looking into Weston A Price and cacao is mentioned as being high in phytic acid- do you know how much and if the roasted cocoa version is lower ? I <3 coconut oil chocolate and can't wait to put some chia seeds in the next batch!

  12. Hmmm. This is interesting. I checked out that article from Chris Kresser and based on the info he gave for cocoa powder, I calculated that there is about 300 mg phytic acid in 2 TB cocoa (I’m assuming the cacao is the same, but he didn’t specify), and he said it’s okay to have between 100-400mg per day. So, if you have a nice glass of chocolate milk and avoid phytates the rest of the day, you’re good. :)

  13. To say that raw cacao powder has 95,000 orac points is not very helpful. One needs to know how much of the cacao powder must be consumed to achieve this orac value, in common measurement terms most people will understand. Unfortunately, most sites do not address this problem. For instance, how many teaspoons or tablespoons one must consume to achieve 100,000 oracs.

  14. Ok..well I need help with this…I got some squares of cocoa from Dominican republic they say it’s for hot chocolate….but I want to use it in cake…can I? How to use it? Melt? Blend? Ground? Please help…nikki

  15. For all those who might be wandering about roasted cacao…
    both have the same nutrients except for ORAC. The thing here is pure chemistry: when something burns it becomes impregnated with oxigen. So the diference is between cacao or cacao with oxigen.
    For obcious reasons the cacao wich has already absorbed some oxigen during the roasting procces will not absorb as much oxigen as the one wich has not absorbed nothing. Hope I have clarified the point.

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