What’s the Difference Between Cocoa and Cacao? (Hint: More than a few letters!)
Real Food Recipes
What’s the difference between cocoa and cacao? Good question! Other than a few rearranged letters, it may not seem like very much! But let’s take a closer look…
I’ve spent more than a few trips to the grocery store scratching my head…
… wondering if the more cost-efficient cocoa was really just the same as the more expensive cacao.
I mean they look the same. They feel the same. Heck, they TASTE the same!
So what’s the deal? What’s the difference between cacao and cocoa? Is there any difference at all or is this some sort of weird social experiment!?
Well, here’s the answer: cacao and cocoa are the same thing. Yet very different.
The technical difference between cocoa and cacao:
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. Then after the beans are cleaned, roasted and processed, they are called “cocoa.”
So cacao is essentially the raw version of cacao.
(Yes yes, it would be a whole lot simpler if they were to just call cacao “raw cocoa” but I’m not making the rules here.)
The nutritional difference between cocoa and cacao:
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’s really 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.
So when confronted with both cocoa and cacao, choose the latter if you want more of those free-radical fighting antioxidants!
Thanks to its sky-high antioxidant content, cacao has many, many proven health benefits.
Studies have found that cacao:
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Lowers blood pressure
- Lowers cortisol (body’s main stress hormone) levels
- Boosts mood
- Reduces the risk of stroke and developing heart disease
- Improves memory by improving blood flow to the brain
- Improves cognitive performance.
- Increases energy levels
Pretty amazing, right!?
Oh! You can also use cacao to make an antioxidant-packed face mask: DIY All-Natural Rich Mocha Mud Mask
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?
Thanks for the explanation!