While both cocoa and cacao have a lot in common (chocolate!), the way they’re processed makes a huge difference in each of their health benefits. Learn exactly what this difference entails, as well as the effects of both cacao powder and cocoa on your body. You’ll finally know why you should choose cacao if you want to get the best and most advantages!
Chances are, you have a package of cocoa powder in your kitchen that you look at with hope and anticipation. Who doesn't love a chocolate muffin or a steaming cup of hot cocoa on a rainy afternoon? But what if we told you that it's cacao, not cocoa, what you should be buying?
What's the difference?
Both cacao and cocoa are processed products of cacao beans. The main difference is in the heat that takes part in this process. Once the raw beans are harvested, there are several steps to be taken in order to get either cocoa powder or cacao powder.
Cocoa powder and cacao powder are very similar, the only difference being that cocoa is processed at a much higher temperature, and often with added sugar and dairy to get the final products. The result is a less bitter, slightly darker powder that has lost some of its nutritional value.
In addition to that, as the regular cocoa powder has been chemically processed and roasted, a large number of the cacao’s antioxidants are destroyed in the process. One study suggested that between 60% and 90% of the original antioxidants in cacao are lost when processed to obtain a cocoa powder.
Cacao powder is made from fermented beans that haven’t been roasted. They’re processed at low temperatures and then milled into a powder. As a result, it’s bitter in taste and higher in nutritional content. Additionally, because it’s been minimally processed with no additives, it can be consumed by vegetarians and vegans.
Nutritional comparison of cacao and cocoa products
Both cacao and cocoa are nutritious and beneficial for your health when consumed in moderation. However, a portion of raw cacao contains 126% more iron, 149% more magnesium, and 136% more potassium than a portion from the same size of cocoa.
Raw cacao also has almost 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries and it's one of the highest plant sources of iron. More importantly, raw cacao has 160mg of calcium per 100-grams-portion. As a reference, note that milk has just 125mg per 100g!
Overall, if you analyze the two products gram per gram, cacao is more nutritious. However, cocoa is far cheaper, which means that when it comes to price cocoa is the better choice, if the budget’s an issue. Remember that they’re interchangeable in recipes, so whichever you go for, just enjoy the taste and the hidden benefits.
Health benefits of cacao
Cacao products are rich in disease-fighting plant compounds including flavonols, which have antioxidant, heart-protective, and anti-cancer properties. It's also a good source of iron, fiber, and magnesium. If you want to make the most of these benefits, you should choose unsweetened cacao nibs.
While you can substitute cacao powder for cocoa powder, you will lose some of the antioxidants during the baking process and the flavor will be more bitter, so it's probably best to stick with cocoa powder for baking endeavors. However, consider using it in smoothies, or add raw cacao nibs to trail mix and other uncooked creations.
Try our vegan brownies for the extra hit of cocoa/cacao.