Cacao Vs. Cocoa: Know the Basic Differences

The words cacao and cocoa are often used interchangeably. However, are both these words names for the same thing? In this article, we shall look at the differences between cocoa and cacao, in respect to their preparation, nutritional qualities, taste, and other characteristics.
Tastessence Staff
Did You Know?
The ancient Mayans used cacao beans not only as a food source, but also as a form of currency, used in day-to-day transactions. In the modern world, this would mean that all cacao plantation owners would be millionaires and billionaires!

Chocolate! This one word is enough to make mouths water for millions of people across the globe. However, not everyone is familiar with where this heavenly food comes from. Originating from the ancient Mayan culture, where cacao beans were used in a bitter-tasting brew, these seeds have now become an integral part of world cuisine, especially for desserts and sweet drinks.
If you visit a supermarket, there is a good chance that you will see products labeled as both cacao and cocoa. These items usually look very similar too. However, despite their many similarities, and despite the fact that both of them are products of cacao seeds, there are significant differences between the two, depending on how they are prepared. Let's check out a cacao vs. cocoa comparison for a better understanding.
Cacao Vs. Cocoa
Where Do Cacao Trees Grow?
Well, both cocoa and cacao come from the same tree. And cacao plantations exist all over the world. However, the best of the produce is only found in areas that have specific climatic conditions for cocoa trees to grow in. The region should have an average temperature of 20 - 30°C (68 - 86°F), at least 1,500 mm of rainfall every year, an average of 70 - 95% humidity, and a good amount of shade.
The biggest producers of cocoa/cacao are found around central America, western Africa, and some parts of southeast Asia. Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Fiji, Ghana, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Madagascar, New Guinea, Panama, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, and Venezuela are among the top producers of cocoa/cacao.
Manufacturing Process
Cacao: The major difference between cocoa and cacao is the amount of processing that the seeds undergo. Raw cacao is created by harvesting, fermenting, drying, and cleaning raw cacao beans, after which point they may be broken down into cacao nibs or ground into cacao powder.
Cocoa: To create cocoa, cacao beans are roasted after the fermenting process. Additives such as sugar and cocoa butter might be added to the powder. Sometimes, the cocoa powder is further processed along with an alkaline solution, which gets rid of the naturally acidic taste of cacao beans, giving them a deeper flavor that is almost like chocolate. This cocoa is called dutched cocoa.
Nutritional Values
Cacao: 1 tablespoon of cacao powder has around 12 - 15 calories, 1 gram of fat, and around 2 grams of dietary fiber. Cacao usually contains tiny amounts of minerals and vitamins, such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, some types of vitamin B, folate, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Its caffeine content is also low, at around 12 mg. Cacao contains an extremely large amount of antioxidants, with an ORAC (oxygen radical absorbent capacity) value of around 95,000. It is important to note that cacao is rarely eaten by itself. It is mixed with fruits or smoothies, which provide extra nutrients to it.
Cocoa: Cocoa has similar nutritional values to cacao. However, the roasting process can drastically reduce the amount of antioxidants, vitamins, and trace minerals. This can be seen as the ORAC value of cocoa is approximately 26,000. Besides this, the addition of sugar, cocoa butter, and sugar affects the calorie and fat count in cocoa products.
What does cacao taste like: Cocoa has a mildly bitter taste, which is unpalatable to most chocolate lovers. This makes it a favorite for making cakes and other forms of patisserie, which need a chocolate color, but with a bitter touch.
What does cocoa taste like: Roasted or dutched cocoa gets rid of the bitter taste, and gives it a deeper and smoother tone. The addition of sugar and cocoa butter can bring the flavor very close to that of chocolate.
Nutritional Benefits
Health benefits of cacao: Cacao has numerous benefits besides slowing down radical oxidants. The unprocessed form helps reduce resistance to insulin, making it very useful for diabetics. It also protects the nerves from damage, reducing the chances of strokes, heart attacks, and abnormal blood pressure, by lowering cholesterol. It is also proven to stop free radicals which can cause cancer, and it also helps relieve stress by the release of neurotransmitter hormones that increase the sense of well-being in a person.
Health benefits of cocoa: Cocoa has the same benefits as cacao. It can also reduce the chances of blood clots. However, due to the loss of nutrients and antioxidants, the benefits of consuming cocoa are muted to a large extent. While both cacao and cocoa are beneficial for the body, they also have some drawbacks.
Side Effects
The side effects mentioned hereon have not been clearly substantiated, although there are indications to support them. So, it is important to consult a dietitian when you want to follow a particular diet.
Side effects of cacao: Cacao has been blamed for addiction, disturbed sleep cycles, damaged kidneys, mood swings, and build-up of toxicity in the blood and liver. It is also said to act as a hallucinogen when consumed in large quantities.
Side effects of cocoa: Apart from the side effects of cacao, cocoa is also sometimes blamed for raising blood sugar levels, causing diarrhea, triggering allergies and migraines in sensitive people, and for causing GERD (Gastroeasophagal Reflux Disease).
When comparing raw cacao vs. cocoa powder, it is important to note that cacao is not actually raw. The drying of cacao beans in sunlight, pressurized removal of cocoa butter, and grinding into nibs and powder, generates a lot of heat which changes the molecular structure of raw cacao. When you find products which claim to be cold pressed, or other methods of creating cacao nibs or powder without heat, it is most probably a scam/publicity stunt. It is always better to take an informed decision, and the above information will help you enjoy the cacao bean in all its glory, in the best way.