The Difference between Cacao and Cocoa

The Difference between Cacao and Cocoa

The Difference between Cacao and Cocoa

Cacao vs Cocoa
What is the difference between cacao and cocoa and how do I use them?
I’ spent quite a bit of time tweaking a Low Carb Flourless Chocolate Cake  recipe. The base of this cake is of course dark chocolate and it uses both 85% couverture chocolate and cacao powder. I used to make this cake using Dutch cocoa powder but decided to try it using cacao powder, as I love the health benefits that are associated with cacao. The final result is still an absolutely delicious. The cake is not quite as rich as it would be if I used the Dutch cocoa and perhaps a little more bitter, but it is still a rich, decadent cake. If I was a true critic of the recipe, the cake made with the Dutch cocoa is a better cake, but as I’m aware of the benefits of cacao, I am still awarding the cake made using the cacao bonus points because of the potential health benefits gained by eating cacao. I’ve decided to give both options in the recipe so you, the baker can decide what you want to use in the cake.

The Difference between Cacao and Cocoa
Low Carb Flourless Chocolate Cake made with Cacao

The Cacao Bean
Cacao powder and cocoa powder have the same origin, they both come from a cacao bean. Cacao beans grow in pods on a Cacao Tree. The beans are stripped from the pods, dried, fermented and heated to a low temperature to extract the fats from the beans. Once the fats have been removed, the beans are then milled down into cacao powder. Cacao powder can then be sold as it is or it can be further processed to create products such as cocoa powder and Dutch cocoa powder, as well as many other products.

You will often hear about the health benefits associated with chocolate, but did you know that they are focused on cacao beans, and sadly, not on that overly processed chocolate bar that you may have bought from the corner store. To maximize the associated health benefits of the cacao bean, it really is in your best interest to try to eat as pure a source of cacao as you can, and also, one that has not been overly processed. There is nothing wrong with including cocoa in your diet but if you can get additional health benefits by eating cacao in a purer, less processed form, why wouldn’t you? Obviously, you will still get some of the health benefits of cacao by eating chocolate which is great, but if you can include more cacao in your life to get added health benefits, what do you have to lose?

Health Benefits of Cacao
Cacao beans are a great source of anti-oxidants and are known to assist in enhancing and boosting your mood. They can also be beneficial in helping you sleep at night. Cacao beans are a fantastic source of nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, copper potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and vitamin B. They can be beneficial in helping lower blood pressure and can also help regulate your insulin levels. Studies show that it can even help improve heart health. Sadly, these health benefits aren’t going to be gained simply by eating any chocolate biscuit or bar. You are going to have to be more selective with your cacao choice to gain full the health benefits that cacao can offer. For additional reading on the health benefits of cacao have a look at this article.

All things Cacao!
Did you know that you can eat cacao beans raw? They taste quite bitter though, so you may need to acquire a taste for them. Cocoa and cacao come in forms such as cacao nibs, cacao butter, cacao powder, cocoa powder, Dutch cocoa powder and chocolate bars etc. Generally, if it has the term cacao in it you would assume that it is has been less processed and is raw cacao, but still be vigilant with reading labels on packaged and processed foods, to make sure you know what you are buying.

Cacao nibs are available on supermarket shelves now. Nibs are simply cacao beans that manufacturers chop into small pieces, without any additives. Some people like to eat these as they are, or add to recipes for trail mixes etc. Less common is cacao butter, the part extracted from the fatty part of the cacao bean. It has a buttery, fatty texture and can use it in cooking and is also used as a moisturiser for skin. Currently, cacao butter is still a pricey item to buy.

Cacao Powder and Cocoa powder
Cacao powder is a common pantry ingredient and features in many recipes such as chocolate cakes, chocolate fudge, brownies and cookies. It is also used in drinks such as shakes, smoothies, coffee and hot chocolate. As mentioned earlier, cocoa powder comes from cacao bean, but it has been processed at high temperatures to produce a product that is sweeter in flavor than cacao powder but has lost some of its associated health qualities because of processing.

There are two types of cocoa powder available-

Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder is probably the most common form of cocoa powder used and is created through intense processing of cacao powder. It has a slightly bitter taste and is quite acidic. When using cocoa powder in baking, often baking soda is added to alkalise the cocoa powder. Cocoa is a very common, cheaply processed grocery item.

Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder (Dark Cocoa Powder).
Dutch processed cocoa under goes additional processing to cocoa powder, with an alkalized chemical solution applied to make the cocoa powder less bitter and a lot richer in flavor. Unfortunately, this additional processing destroys a lot of the beneficial health properties that can be gained by eating cacao in a more natural form.

Take care when buying any cocoa products as there are also cocoa powders available that have had sugars, corn syrup, fillers and dairy additives etc added. You should to try to buy these products in it their purest form so make sure you always read labels, so you know what you are buying.

Cacao Powder
Cacao powder has been less processed and therefore retains a lot more nutritional quality than cocoa powder/Dutch cocoa powder. It has a more bitter taste than cocoa does and for some it is an acquired taste. For many recipes you can simply swap an equal amount of cacao powder for cocoa powder without much impact on flavor or the end result. Cacao powder used to be a lot more expensive to buy but increased demand has driven the price down by a huge amount which is great for consumers.

Using cacao powder where possible, can provide you with all the associated health benefits that you won’t necessarily receive if using the more processed, cocoa products. Bear in mind that heating through baking can also impact on these nutritional qualities, but it is really hard to determine exactly what baking does to these nutritional qualities, so there is no firm answer on what impact baking has on cacao.

If I can make a choice between using a more natural product or using something that is a lot more processed, I will always try to choose the less processed product. When it comes to using cacao powder for cooking that isn’t reliant on heat as part of the process, then I will use cacao powder all the time, i.e. for bliss balls, smoothies, no-bake chocolate slice etc. If I’m baking with heat, it probably degrades some of the nutrients and antioxidant levels, but cacao is still my ideal choice wherever possible. I know the product I am using is nutritionally better than others that I could have added, and I don’t know what impact my cooking process may have on the product, but I still feel it’s a good decision to make. Please don’t feel guilty about using cocoa products. I still use cocoa powder at times if I need to. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either cocoa or Dutch cocoa powder if that is what you want to use.

Everything is good in moderation
Cacao has amazing health benefits but like all good things, try to watch your intake. There can be some health risks associated with a high consumption of cacao due to its levels of oxalic acid and, it’s levels of theobromine. Basically, theobromine is the reason dogs can’t eat chocolate. They simply can’t metabolise it and it can cause cardiac arrest (I have seen this happen with my own dogs). Like caffeine, theobromine can cause you to feel hyperactive, but it can also cause headaches in some individuals. Oxalic acid can be an issue for some as it inhibits calcium absorption. Oxalic acid gets converted to calcium oxalate in your system, which can also result in the formation of kidney stones. I do think it would be hard to over eat cacao…but then again, I also know how addictive chocolate can be to some people, so please enjoy but in moderation.


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