What’s the difference between cocoa and cacao?

Cocoa vs. Cacao

It’s certainly easy to get the difference between cocoa and cacao mixed up.  The spelling is so close that it does not help in the confusion. They are the same thing, right?  Wrong.  They both start out with beans from the cacao plant.  The process in both involves separating the fatty part of the nut known as cocoa butter. It is widely known that Cocoa butter, also called theobroma oil, is a pale-yellow, edible fat extracted from the cocoa bean.  It is used to make chocolate, ointments, toiletries, and pharmaceuticals. Cocoa butter has a cocoa flavor and aroma.

Cacao pods from the Cacao tree.

Once the fat is separated out, the beans are then milled and processed.  That is how both Cocoa and Cacao are made. So now, let’s explore what indeed makes them different.

What is cacao powder?

Cacao powder comes from beans that are processed at low temperatures and are considered raw. Once milled into powder, it contains much higher amounts of enzymes, minerals, and nutrients which is cacao powder. It has a more bitter taste than cocoa powder but offers more nutritional content and considered a more natural product which is very appealing to some. Cacao powder is packed with flavonoids. These nutrients have shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and aid in preventing blood clots. The flavonoids in cacao powder may help increase insulin sensitivity, reducing your risk of diabetes.

What is cocoa powder?

Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is processed at much higher temperatures. The beans are fermented and are roasted (cacao powder only involves fermentation. Fermentation is essential to flavor development and the final acidity of cacao beans.). Cocoa is naturally acidic in taste. The finely ground and sifted product is sold as “natural cocoa”. Compared to cacao power, a tradeoff is that it may lack in the nutrients due to the additional heating.

Nutritional comparison Cocoa Powder vs Cacao Powder

1 tablespoon (5g) of cocoa powder contains:

  • 3 grams carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of dietary fiber
  • <1 gram of protein
  • 5 grams of total fat
  • 1 mg of iron
  • 0 mg of phosphorus
  • 4 mg of calcium
  • 0 mg of magnesium
  • 75 mg of potassium
  • 8 mg of caffeine

(Reference: Hershey’s Cocoa)

1 tablespoon (6g) of cacao powder contains:

  • 2 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of dietary fiber
  • 6 grams of protein
  • 6 g of total fat
  • 8 mg of iron
  • 14 mg of calcium
  • 4 mg of magnesium
  • 120 mg of potassium
  • 6 mg of caffeine

(Reference: Navitas Organics Cacao powder)

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