Cacao VS Cocoa - What’s the difference and which is best?

Published on 31 July 2017

Cacao VS Cocoa.

Cacao is the latest word to be thrown around by top food bloggers and features in every “healthy treat recipe” you read, but what is the difference between cacao and cocoa?

There are key differences between the two beans.  Despite coming from the same place, cocoa and cacao are differentiated in terms of their processing. It is thought that cacao is a healthier alternative to cocoa, and therefore is more beneficial to our health. 

Cocoa:

Cocoa beans are found in the fruits (called pods) that the Theobroma cacao (Cocoa tree) produces. These pods are hand-picked and each contains approximately 20 to 40 cocoa beans. The cocoa beans are fermented, roasted and separated from their hulls. In order to produce the cocoa powder, the beans are ground to make cocoa liquor. The cocoa liquor is then pressed to remove the cocoa butter (fat). The cocoa that is left behind is then ground, which produces the powder. 

Cocoa has antioxidants, called flavonoids.  Flavonoids are beneficial for cardiovascular health. This is due to the fact that research suggests that flavonoids could play a part on reducing inflammation. Inflammation is caused by diets that contain food that is high in refined, processed and sugary foods. This inflammation is a contributing fact to many diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

Because the cocoa is processed at high temperatures, this results in the reduction of enzyme content, and lowers the overall nutritional value. 

Cacao:

The production of cacao powder differs from the cocoa power process. In order to enhance the flavor, cacao beans are harvested and fermented. The beans are then crushed and shopped to produce cacao nibs. Once the cacao paste has been made, this is then filtered in order to remove the cacao butter (fat). The cacao powder is produced through drying out the remaining product. 

Throughout this process, the temperature remains under 47 degrees Celsius. This allows the product to be labeled as raw. Also, by using lower temperatures, this minimizes the loss of antioxidants and nutrients. Because cacao is processed at low temperatures, this results in the enzymes remaining in the powder, increasing the overall nutritional value.

Cacao has a higher antioxidant content than cocoa. The benefits of a higher antioxidant content are:

  1. Lower insulin resistance
  2. Protection of your nervous system
  3. Shielding of nerve cells from damage
  4. Reduces the risk of stroke
  5. Lower blood pressure 

Cacao has been said to have higher levels of antioxidant activity than cocoa. These levels are measured by ORAC (Oxygen radical Absorbance Capacity). However, this does not guarantee that cacao is healthier simply because it has high ORAC levels. 

Cacao has the highest flavonoid content. This is a result of the lower temperatures during the processing. This has benefits of its own, as the overall nutritional value is increased.