If you ever scratch your head seeing that your chocolate is made from cacao instead of cocoa powder, you’re not alone.

As the popularity of chocolate grows, people are getting more into the cacao vs. cocoa debate. While both of them sound quite similar, there are important differences between them.

Cacao nibs or cacao powder are mostly available in the healthy food shops, making you wonder which one you should go for. Although they originate from the same plant, they differ in flavor, taste, texture, nutrition, and cost.

This article looks into the differences between cacao and cocoa, their nutrition facts, health benefits, and uses.
cacao vs cocoa

Cacao Vs. Cocoa: The Making Process

Both cacao and cocoa come from the Theobroma cacao tree. What makes them different from each other is their production methods.

While both cacao and cocoa powder are used to make chocolates, there is no fixed agreement on when to use the term cacao or cocoa in the ingredients. [1]

Some manufacturers use the term cacao for the pods, while some use it for the dried beans and pods before they are fermented. The fermented beans are known as cocoa beans. [2, 3]

The raw cacao products don’t contain beans straight from the pods. Instead, there are several processing steps to make the cacao and cocoa powder. [1, 4, 5]

The basic production method of cacao or cocoa  powder includes the following process:

  • Fermentation: The beans are covered into a bin for a few days to let the microbes ferment the beans. The beans will start developing its unique chocolate aroma and flavor.
  • Drying: The fermented beans are allowed to become dry for several days before they are sorted and sold to the chocolate manufacturers.
  • Roasting: Unless someone wants the raw products, the beans will be roasted to develop the full flavor of chocolate with some sweetness.
  • Crushing: The roasted beans are then crushed to become separated from their outer hull. The resulting pieces are known as cacao nibs.
  • Grinding: Finally, the nibs are grounded. It produces a non-alcoholic liquor that is used to make chocolates.

The liquor is then pressed to remove the fat content known as cocoa butter to create the cocoa powder. [2]

Other ingredients such as milk, sugar, vanilla, and more cocoa butter are mixed with the liquor to make chocolate. [5]

Cacao Vs. Cocoa: Nutrition Facts

Whether raw or roasted, you will the main differences between cocoa and cacao are their calorie, sugar, and fat content. [6, 7]

One ounce of cacao contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 160
  • Fat: 11 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 2.5 grams
  • Protein: 9 grams
  • Carbs: 6 grams
  • Added Sugars: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Iron: 4% of the RDI

On the other hand, the same amount of cocoa has the following amount of nutrients:

  • Calories: 64
  • Fat: 3.5 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 2 grams
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Carbs: 16 grams
  • Added Sugars: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 9 grams
  • Iron: 22% of the RDI

Products made from cacao are rich in iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese, and chromium, which are not often mentioned in the nutrition labels. [3]

Cacao Vs. Cocoa: Benefits & Risks

Cacao beans and products made from them are rich in flavanols, the vital plant compounds that have antioxidants, anti-cancer, and heart-protective properties. [3, 5]

Unlike other plant food sources, the iron in cacao can be absorbed in your body, which is particularly helpful for those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet. [3]

Cacao contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which your body uses to produce serotonin, an important brain chemical that helps you to relax. [2]

However, remember that chocolates are high in calories, meaning that they can be harmful to your health if you’re overweight or have diabetes. [8]

You can reduce the risk by choosing unsweetened cacao products or dark chocolate. [9]

How to Use Them

Whether you use the cacao or cocoa powder depends on your taste buds and the recipe you’re planning to create.

Although cacao nibs are healthier than the regular chocolate chips, they are quite bitter. You can mix them both to keep a balance.

Raw cacao powder is generally expensive but tastes better then the cocoa powder. Besides, cacao powder is the best fit for smoothies as its antioxidants will be destroyed by the heat.

End Note

Although cacao and cocoa are made using the same procedure, the fat content is removed to get the latter.

Both of them are quite nutritious and provide numerous health benefits when used unsweetened. If you can’t find cacao powder or don’t want to use it due to the high price, dark chocolate with 70% cocoa can also be beneficial for you.

No matter which cacao-based product you choose, consume them in moderation due to their high-calorie content.

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