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

  1. Thanks for the explanation!

  2. Awesome! I’ve been wondering this for a while! Thanks for such a great and easy to understand explanation. I’ve never tried cacao… is the taste much different than cocoa?

  3. meghanrichey says:

    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!

  4. […] 1/2 cup cocoa (since these cookies are baked, I choose to use cocoa over cacao. Stumped as to why? See “What is the difference between cocoa and cacao?“). […]

  5. lynne says:

    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.

  6. Nadia says:

    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.

  7. Christiana says:

    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.

  8. Sheila Daniel says:

    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.

  9. […] Cocao powder, 1 cup (Use unprocessed cocao, not cocoa powder.) […]

  10. […] cup powdered cacao (Click here to purchase. Click here to learn the health benefits of cacao and understand the difference between cacao and […]

  11. Laura says:

    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.

  12. […] tablespoons of organic cacao powder: cacao (which differs from cocoa in more than just name) is a wonderful source of […]

  13. Lore Smith says:

    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?

  14. […] cup powdered cacao (Click here to learn the health benefits of cacao and understand the difference between cacao and […]

  15. Lori Langone says:

    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.

  16. […] cup powdered cacao (Click here to learn the health benefits of cacao and understand the difference between cacao and […]

  17. […] 1 cup cacao powder: In addition to being an antioxidant powerhouse, raw cacao is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, fiber, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, calcium and sulfur. Read about the difference between cocoa and cacao. […]

  18. What would the shelf life be? I found that I can buy 5lbs from Azure Standard, but that would take me a LONG time to go through. I want to know how long is too long to keep it in the cupboard.

  19. Nadia says:

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

  20. Thank you. I found info that said 2 years. :)

  21. sigrid says:

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

  22. sigrid says:

    And taste even better when coconut milk is added to a hot cacao drink;)

  23. Michelle says:

    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!

  24. Nadia says:

    Ohhh hm. That’s something I honestly don’t know much about but do want to learn more. I sort of tinker with paleo but have yet to really take the plunge.

    This post has a chart that is really helpful, and cacao is towards the top: http://chriskresser.com/another-reason-you-shouldnt-go-nuts-on-nuts

  25. 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. :)

  26. […] Powdered cacao (learn the difference between cocoa and cacao) […]

  27. Jack Bolton says:

    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.

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