Cacao? Cocoa? What’s the difference?

cacao cocoaThey sound almost the same, look and taste almost the same, heck some people even say they ARE the same thing! Let’s take a closer look into this world of chocolatey bliss!

First off, let’s talk about raw cacao. All chocolate is made from the cacao (cocoa) bean, and cacao beans in their natural, unprocessed, unadulterated state are rich in nutrients and beneficial to health.  Cacao powder is simply the cacao bean, that through a cold-pressing process, has had the fat (cacao butter) removed. With the fat removed, cacao powder becomes hydroscopic, so it dissolves easily in liquids. Cacao powder can be used to make chocolate by mixing it with cacao butter and sweetener. Source 1.

Raw cacao is unadulterated and much less processed than cocoa powder. It is higher in nutrients and antioxidants; more rich in magnesium and sulfur, and full of healthy fats. Cacao in its natural state contain no sugar, so it does taste quite bitter but when used in baking it creates a rich, chocolatey taste!   When buying chocolate bars, look for a higher percentage of cacao.  The higher the percentage, the less sugar and stronger chocolate taste.  While cacao aids in weight loss, it should be noted that a serving is 1 ounce, so try not to go overboard!!

But is it really RAW??  Foods that are considered raw are not cooked above 40C or 104F.  Since the cacao beans are fermented in the HOT sun, and removing the beans from the pod requires grinding, aka HEAT, many believe that it is not actually “raw” and that it’s just a marketing scam.

Now onto cocoa powder.  Cocoa powder is made one of two ways, natural or dutch-process.  The natural cocoa is more acidic. The dutch-process has been washed with a potassium solution to reduce the acidity.  Cocoa powder is made by roasting cocoa beans, and then grinding it to a paste. The thick paste is then pressed between hydraulic plates, which squeezes out about half of the excess cocoa butter. (Cocoa beans are about 50% fat.) What’s left is a hard disk of cocoa powder, which is then grated into a fine powder.   Source 2.cacao vs cocoaSo, to sum it up, yes, both cacao and cocoa come from the same bean.  The difference is the way they are processed. Raw cacao is 3.6 times more rich in nutrients than cocoa powder and does not go through as much of a rigorous process to produce.  You will most likely only find raw cacao in health foods stores. They come in the form of  beans, nibs or powder and are more expensive than cocoa powder which you can find inexpensively and easily in your local supermarket.

So, there you have it! I hope this helps.  I personally use raw cacao in non-cooked foods like smoothies.  I do still use cocoa powder in some baking recipes since, when introduced to heat, raw cacao apparently looses most of its health benefits and it’s more expensive!



  • trixfred30 September 15, 2013 at 2:57 am

    So cocao is not baked first and cocoa is baked first? The chocolate over here is really sweet compared to, say, Hershy’s (which from my British taste buds point of view tastes a bit strange) – we Brits like our chocolate really sweet!

    • thehappyhealthfreak September 15, 2013 at 9:56 am

      In both cases the beans are fermented in the hot sun but for cacao they use a cold press to extract the butter which leaves the powder behind. Whereas for cocoa they use a hydraulic press which causes heat and apparently it looses a lot of the nutrients during this process.
      I’d love to try UK chocolate! We have so many different kinds over here from sweet milk chocolate (Hershey’s) to fair trade REALLY dark chocolate 80%, which is quite bitter. I like mine dark but around 70%, I think my taste buds have changed a bit over the years!

  • Sarah H (GF Blogger) September 15, 2013 at 6:10 am

    I’m so glad I found this post! I have always wondered the difference and this is really informative, thanks 🙂 x


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