Cacao vs Cocoa: The Difference & Why It Matters
Chocolate is a delicious treat. That’s simple enough. What’s not so simple is figuring out the difference between “cocoa” and “cacao.” If this has you scratching your head, you’re not alone. Read on…
Understanding the difference won’t just satisfy your curiosity. It also reveals some key insights about how your favorite indulgence can affect your health.
A Common Misunderstanding
“Why do some people say cocoa and others say cacao?” That question lingered in my mind for years. I thought “cacao” and “cocoa” were just two ways to say the same thing. As far as I was concerned, chocolate was chocolate.
But the reality of cacao vs cocoa is a bit more complicated than that. While cacao and cocoa start from the same place, the way they end up (and what they go through along the way) has different effects on their nutrition benefits.
The Difference Lies in the Processing
What we know as chocolate, in all of its forms, starts at the same source: the Theobroma Cacao tree. This South American tree produces seed pods. Harvesters crack them open and take out the seeds, which are called cacao beans. They actually kind of look like coffee beans.
You can eat cacao beans raw. Their flavor is like a very bitter form of chocolate, and it varies depending on the growing conditions (soil, sunlight, etc.) of the cacao tree. Beans are usually fermented and dried before they’re processed any further (2).
Raw cacao beans taste bitter, but they’re the healthiest when eaten this way.
What happens next determines whether the beans become cacao or cocoa. They start from the same place, but the processing makes all the difference. If you’re a chocolate hound, you probably already know that cocoa and cacao are available in many forms: nibs, chips, butter, powder, and chocolate bars, just to name a few.
Chocolate Health Studies Can Be Misleading
It’s understandable if you’re excited about all of chocolate’s health benefits. Every day seems to bring another article or news report about science’s latest incredible chocolate discovery. Maybe you remind yourself of these whenever you pick up a few candy bars at the store!
Here’s the thing, though. The vast majority of studies exploring links between chocolate and health benefits are not dealing with chocolates you’d find at the store. They’re focused on cacao beans themselves, either in raw or minimally-processed forms. That’s a key distinction. Unfortunately, it often gets lost in translation by the time it makes its way to articles, news reports, or posts online.
With that said, cacao and cocoa are delicious and still have plenty of benefits to offer. Just as it’s key to understand how scientists frame their chocolate studies, it’s important to understand the differences between cocoa, cacao, and what they mean for your health.
A Host of Health Benefits
Raw (or minimally-processed) cacao beans are superfoods. Here’s a quick rundown of some of their awesome health benefits:
• Antioxidant effects. Cacao beans are absolutely packed with phenolic phytochemicals and flavonoids, which protect your cells against damage from free radicals (3). Oxidative damage can result in premature aging and many of the modern health conditions today.
• Boosts your mood and cognitive performance. Epicatechin, the main flavonoid in cacao, improves various aspects of cognition, preserve cognitive abilities during aging, and even puts you in a better mood (5).
• Lowers blood pressure. Recent studies found that flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel flexibility (6).
• Protects your heart. Researchers found that flavanols and procyanidins from cacao increased antioxidant capacity in the blood plasma and reduced platelet reactivity, resulting in a healthier heart (7).
• Regulates insulin levels. Epicatechin, a flavanol in cacao, activates key proteins and help regulate glucose production, even among diabetics (8).
Cacao beans are also rich in nutrients like magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper, and manganese (9). They’re actually thought to be one of the richest food sources of magnesium around (10)!
Remember how cacao beans are harvested from the cacao tree’s seed pods? That’s where cacao’s journey begins, no matter its final form. Once beans are dried and fermented, manufacturers heat them at a low temperature. The heat separates the fatty part of the bean from the rest, a key part of the process.
Cacao nibs are just cacao beans that manufacturers chop up into small pieces. They’re like chocolate chips, but a little less sweet, without the added sugars and artificial sweeteners. You still get all the nutrients and antioxidant power of cacao beans. You can munch on these all by themselves, add them to homemade Paleo trail mix, or use them like you use chocolate chips.
Cacao butter is made from the fattiest part of the cacao bean. This stuff is white, with a rich, fatty texture. It actually looks and tastes a bit like white chocolate, and you can use it during baking or even as a moisturizer.
Manufacturers remove the fatty, buttery parts from the rest of the beans during processing. Then they take what’s left and mill it into a fine dark powder: cacao powder. Cacao powder is popular in baking sweet treats – everything from brownies and cookies, to fudge and cake. You can even use it in smoothies or coffees.
Cocoa starts the same way cacao does: as harvested beans from the plant’s seed pods. During processing, however, it’s heated at much higher temperatures. This results in a slightly sweeter flavor and different health effects.
Cocoa powder is extremely popular in dessert recipes. There are actually two types available:
1. Dutch-processed cocoa powder. This variety, also known as dark cocoa, undergoes additional processing with an alkalized chemical solution. This is done to make the taste of the end product richer and less acidic. Unfortunately, further processing only increases degradation off all those awesome antioxidants and nutrients (11).
2. Natural cocoa powder. This variety is a bit more acidic and bitter than Dutch-processed powder. You’ll find it often in recipes that call for baking soda because the soda alkalizes the natural cocoa powder.
If you’re in the market for cocoa powder, stick to plain versions. Cocoa powder “mixes” often contain added sugar or other sweeteners. Cocoa butter is also available for baking or moisturizing, just like cacao butter. You won’t find cocoa nibs. They’re packaged as chocolate chips, which are unfortunately usually loaded with other ingredients.
Cocoa tends to be cheaper than cacao and easier to find. The challenge is finding a high-quality option without any added sugars, dairy products, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, or emulsifiers – “fillers” companies use to kick up the flavor and cut production costs.
Why Cacao Vs Cocoa Matters
The heavier processing (heating at higher temperatures) that transforms cacao to cocoa doesn’t just affect how manufacturers label the end product. This heat actually affects the beans on a molecular level, changing their structure and degrading nutrient content (12).
That means that cacao, which is less processed, has more powerful antioxidant effects and health benefits. 100 grams of raw cacao powder has an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) of 95,500, which represents antioxidant capacity. This drops to 62,100 for cacao nibs, and 26,000 for cocoa powder (13).
It’s not that cocoa is inherently bad for you; it’s just that cacao is more beneficial. Baking with either kind probably decreases some of the nutrients and antioxidants, but unfortunately research quantifying just how much is non-existent at this point.
Bottom line: heating cacao or cocoa probably degrades some of the nutrients and lessens potent antioxidant effects. But cacao is the ideal choice because it starts with more of them than cocoa.
A Key Note on Dairy
It’s not antioxidants or nutrients chocolate lovers should be obsessed about. It’s dairy.
You probably already know that opting for darker chocolate is better for you. That stuff is made of much higher percentages of cacao (70 percent or more) than milk chocolate. The more cacao, the more nutrients and antioxidants. Milk chocolate – commonly found in chocolate chips and chocolate bars – has less. It also tends to have more sugar, dairy, and artificial sweeteners.
Unfortunately, you aren’t off the hook even if you stick to dark chocolate every time. Most people don’t know this. But practically every chocolate product you buy from a manufacturer contains dairy in some form. They add “fillers” like powdered milk to bring down production costs and add sweetness. You might get more cacao, but you still have to deal with dairy blocking your ability to absorb it effectively.
Check your labels carefully! You can find dairy-free chocolate treats, though they tend to be more expensive than the other stuff. Fortunately, there’s another option:
There are plenty of simple, Paleo-friendly recipes online that swap coconut oil, honey, or other sweeteners for dairy and sugar. This gives you total control over how your chocolate turns out – without having to worry about any unhealthy ingredients.
All it takes to get started is a high-quality organic cacao (or even cocoa) powder, which you can find at health stores or online. There are also plenty of raw chocolate dessert recipes available. You can make these and enjoy them without putting them through the baking process, helping to preserve nutrients and antioxidants.
If you’re going to splurge a little, organic cacao is ideal. Whether you go for nibs, butter, or powder, they’re less processed than cocoa alternatives.
A quick note on baking before you get started. You might be using Paleo dessert recipes designed for cocoa, as those are more common. Can you simply use cacao in a one-to-one-substitution? Most of the time, yes. Every once in a while you might run into a recipe where doing so makes the taste a little off.
Cocoa is a bit sweeter than cacao due to the higher processing temperature. That means you might need to tweak cocoa-based recipes a little to get the taste you’re looking for. Buying top-quality cocoa, or following recipes designed with cacao in mind, are other options.
While cacao has greater antioxidant capabilities and potential health benefits than cocoa, this isn’t something to stress out about. It’s far more important to watch out for the dairy, sugars, and artificial “fillers” that chocolate manufacturers like to slip into their products.
Opting for organic cacao nibs, butter, and powder is ideal. But, as long as you avoid the harmful ingredients chocolate companies add to their products, you can still use quality cocoa and avoid harmful effects. Just remember that you might have to tinker with your recipes a bit if you decide to use cacao when they call for cocoa (or vice versa).
I’ve discovered a small group of Peruvian farmers using a rare “kissed by the sun” form of production which makes it one of the healthiest foods on our planet. I’ll explain exactly what bean I’m talking about, and how you can use it to experience daily bliss, stay lean and energetic, and heal your gut while beating your cravings with the food you crave most.
The moment chocolate touches your lips and begins melting in your mouth, that silky, warm, smooth, satisfying feeling begins to send pleasure signals to your brain.
As you digest it, your brain fills with a treasure chest of “feel good” chemicals, including… Serotonin. The same pleasure chemical your body releases after eating carbs. It also brings you a sense of well being, to help your brain feel calmer and stabilize any frazzled moods… and Theobromine
Which kicks in to flood you with physical and mental relaxation. This helps put you into a more peaceful, relaxed state as you forget about the worries of your day and stay more present in the moment…
Then PEA – Known as the “love chemical” because it’s the same neurotransmitter which makes you feel flush and excited when you see someone you’re attracted to…
Then Anandamide, The BLISS molecule, which triggers a release of dopamine, causing your body to slip into a state of “feel good” with no effort on your part. It’s the perfect way to start your day on a good note, or end it for a great night’s sleep…
The good news is, you don’t have to enjoy these benefits while struggling against the guilt of each high-calorie chocolate dessert! We’ve discovered a unique way for you to… Conquer Your Cravings And Indulge Yourself Daily With The Food You Crave Most! I’ve discovered a unique, fascinating way to embrace your cravings with chocolate… without feeling guilty. In fact, very few people know that RAW cacao is one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
It’s been scientifically proven to…
• Keep you satiated so you can better control your appetite with almost no willpower…
• Better regulate blood sugar, so maybe you can prevent some of those glucose spikes that leave you feeling drained and exhausted…
• Reduce the number of carbohydrates you absorb so managing your weight becomes a little easier…
Raw Cacao Has More Antioxidants Than Most Superfoods!
You can’t open a health magazine these days without seeing at least one article ranting and raving about how awesome blueberries, spinach, and kale are for helping stomp out free radicals, due to their abundance of antioxidants.
The US Department of Agriculture has discovered an easy way of measuring the antioxidant capacity of food. It’s known as the ORAC score (short for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Here are a few ORAC scores of superfoods you’re surely familiar with…
• Broccoli – has an an ORAC of just 890…
• Strawberries – has an an ORAC of just 1,540…
• Kale – has an an ORAC of just 1,770…
• Blueberries – only have an ORAC of 2,400…
• Even the now-famous “Goji Berry”… well known as one of the most nutritionally-packed superfoods in the world to anyone interested in living a healthy lifestyle… has an ORAC score of just 25,300.
• All of these are impressive at delivering free radical fighting antioxidants…
But NONE Of Them Even Come Close To Raw Cacao… With An ORAC Rating Of 95,500!
That’s over 30-times more antioxidant power than most other superfoods to help…
• Improve circulation…
• Improve cognitive performance…
• And increase stamina…
Not only does raw cacao have one of the highest ORAC ratings on the planet…
… it also contains a wide variety of nutritional elements, including calcium, carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, magnesium, sulfur, flavonoids, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids.
The problem is…
If Cacao Is Heated Over 120 Degrees It Starts Becoming Nutritionally Sterile!
Have you EVER seen a package of chocolate talk about how it keeps the heat under 120 degrees?
There’s a reason for that…
They take raw cacao beans and put them into mass production roasting machines so they can produce more, faster, and therefore sell more to the masses. What they don’t want you to know is that they’re literally baking the nutrition right out of it!
As soon as the cacao roasting machine hits 121 degrees, the nutrients begin breaking down and are released into the air. So when you bite into piece of chocolate, most of the 300+ phytonutrients are GONE!
That’s why MOST store-bought chocolate… often including dark chocolate, organic chocolate, and even cacao powder… have about as much nutrition as a stale cigarette butt. But I wanted to give you the option to enjoy chocolate on a daily basis, without worrying about it ruining your health!
That’s why I decided to create a new, never-before-seen solution…
It’s Called Cacao Bliss… And It’s Soon To Be Your New Guilt-Free Way To Indulge Yourself… Daily!
Cacao Bliss is an exclusive blend of raw Peruvian cacao powder and high-powered superfoods designed to help you beat your cravings and pack your body with nutrients to keep you healthy, trim, and energized.
I’ve combined the healthiest, most delicious raw cacao we could find, along with other health-boosting superfoods to create an irresistible chocolate formula you can use as your “guilty pleasure” each day. Its rich, decadent flavor, combined with its ability to heal your body, makes it a one-of-a-kind formula like NOTHING you’ve seen before.
Here’s What Makes This Sun-Kissed, Raw Cacao Superfood Blend So Unique…
I’ve hunted down a rare producer of raw cacao who still uses the ancient sun-kissed method of preserving and curing raw cacao beans. These cacao beans are NEVER roasted. Instead, they’re harvested organically and dried using the gentle warmth of the Peruvian sun.
They’re also single-source, meaning we only use one source of cacao beans, unlike most other companies who use cacao blends, diluting its total nutritional value and leaving you unsure of its quality.
I’ve combined this single-source, sun-kissed raw cacao with other superfoods to benefit your entire body! For example, Cacao Bliss also contains turmeric, one of my FAVORITE superfoods in the world, to help you… Wash Away Sad Feelings And Make Dieting Seem Like A Piece Of (Chocolate) Cake…
Not only can Turmeric help your body move better and feel amazing, it can also do wonders for your mental state too.
Several recent studies have all concluded that curcumin, the primary active component of Turmeric, can help your brain calm down “dark thoughts.” For example, researchers from several different prominent universities in Australia studied 56 individuals dealing with dark moods. The test group received a daily dose of 500 mg of curcumin over an 8-week period.
At the four week mark, curcumin raced ahead as being much more efficient at improving mood test scores and helping participants feel less stressed.
In another study, scientists from Mashhad University of Medical Sciences evaluated how curcumin would affect the mental state of 30 overweight individuals, so that they might experience better weight loss results. According to the final report, those being supplemented with curcumin were able to lower their anxiety SIGNIFICANTLY.
Turmeric has also been found to improve your health in many other ways, such as…
• Turning white body fat (the unhealthy kind) into highly caloric brown fat, which your body can turn into all-day energy..
• Telling your body to store less fat by releasing fat molecules before they have a chance to accumulate…
• Helps restore your body’s ability to metabolize glucose so you can reduce your risk for blood sugar complications…
I’m sure you see why it’s one of my favorite superfoods, and why it was crucial to add to this unbeatable formula. But we didn’t stop there… We also added a generous serving of MCT powder so your system can…
Rewire Your Brain To Tame Cravings And The Urge To Snack!
In the Journal of Nutrition, a study was published showing that the fatty-acids inside MCT can help you feel satiated longer, making it easier for your body to release stubborn fat deposits. The study also revealed that MCT could help increase your energy and boost your metabolism.
MCT was also shown to help reduce “under the skin” belly fat at the Kagawa Nutrition University in Japan. But that’s not the only way Cacao Bliss can tame cravings… We also added a hearty helping of cinnamon, the new “skinny food”, which has been shown to help your body better process glucose.
Researchers from Columbia University, the Raabe College of Pharmacy, the University of Delhi, and Pakistan, all agree that cinnamon helps your body store less sugar as fat, which helps reduce your desire to eat sugary treats. In fact, I’m willing to bet that if you add Cacao Bliss to your daily routine and get a blood test…
Your Doctor Will Ask What You Changed And Tell You To Keep Doing What You’re Doing!
The fiber inside raw cacao has been shown to feed the healthy flora living inside your gut. Once you reclaim the health of your digestive system, you’ll start to enjoy better health. In a study published in the November 2010 issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a group of 22 healthy volunteers were either given a high-flavanol or low-flavanol dose of cacao.
At the end of 8 weeks, samples were taken to determine whether cacao had an impact on gut microflora in participants. Cacao flavanols turned out to be an effective prebiotic because it can directly impact the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Healthy intestinal flora improves digestion and gut health, enhances immune function, and helps balance your hormones. And when your tummy is happy, you’re happy.