Cacao, Cocoa, and why it matters to know the difference
People often ask me what is the difference between cacao and cocoa, and why it matters. My short answer is always cacao is raw and cocoa is refined. I try to compare it with brown and white sugar, but that is also not correct, as, although we believe brown sugar is better, neither brown or white sugar is good for you.
One of our values at the Deli is that we strive to have comprehensive product knowledge. We use our products in our own cooking. If it is something we would normally not use, we make sure that we at least try it once or twice. I expect from our waiters to at least try different products.
Back to cacao. It forced me to do a bit of research on my own, reading up on what the difference is, more than just saying raw vs refined, healthy vs not-so-healthy.
Cacao is the dried and fully fermented seed of the Theobroma cacao tree. For centuries it has been used in drinks in Mexico. Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards, and became a popular beverage by the mid-17th century.
Back to the difference between cacao and cocoa...
Cacao is raw which means that it has not been heat treated. It is made by fermenting and pressing unroasted cacao beans, therefore its nutritional benefits are still intact. Because of the minimal heat used in the processing of cacao powder, it retains its natural light brown colour and original flavour profile, tasting darker and more bitter than cocoa.
It is normally sold as beans, nibs and powder and forms part of a healthy diet. *
Cocoa on the other hand is the end result of cacao which has been heat treated by being roasted at high temperatures. This process removes all the fat (cocoa butter), which is what changes its colour to a much darker brown (the darker the cocoa powder, the more heat treating sessions), and it is stripped of its original nutrients. It also has a milder, less bitter and slightly sweeter flavour compared to cacao.
The health benefits of cacao are vast and include:
- A high antioxidant status
- Boosts cognition and lifts the mood
- Reduce blood pressure and improve blood vessel function
- Lowers insulin resistance
- Protects the heart due to its high flavanol content and antioxidant activity
Because cocoa is cacao which has been put through the process of being roasted at high temperatures it contains none of the health benefits listed above.
Cacao is rich in nutrients and is a source of Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, Phenethylamine, Zinc, Copper & Manganese.
Bottom line: When asked again why cacao is healthier than cocoa, the short answer will be because it is a raw product with all the goodness of nature still intact. All the health benefits given by these beans are stripped once heat is introduced to make it a sweeter, more refined product.
And all these years I thought the lighter the cocoa the better ... should have started with cacao from the start!
We sell both Cacao Nibs and Cacao Powder at the Deli. I am still looking for a contact to buy the beans wholesale.
Cacao in it's different offerings
From left to right, Cacao as Beans, Nibs and Powder