I can’t believe I’ve only just tried cacao! This is the superfood sister of cocoa, but up until now, I haven’t really known what makes them different. So, here’s my quick guide, covering the health benefits, funny pronunciation, and also why there’s a huge price difference between the two…
Cocoa vs. Cacao
The main difference between cocoa and cacao is that cocoa is the roasted variant of ground cocoa beans, whereas cacao is the raw version.
As with cooking anything, the nutrition and flavour changes. Cacao is healthier, with more antioxidants, and has a bitter yet fruity taste, with chocolately undertones. Cocoa is less nutritious, with a chalky, muted chocolately flavour that is slightly more bitter.
In the above picture, you’ll be able to see the three sorts of cacao bean products I have in my kitchen cupboard: cocoa powder, organic cacao powder from Rise Organics (gifted), and cacao nibs. This pic shows a scale of refinement; cacao nibs are made by crushing raw cocoa beans, cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans, and cocoa is made by roasting and processing cocoa beans. As with most foods, the less refined, raw versions are usually much better for us, with living enzymes still being present in the food too.
Why switch cocoa for cacao?
There are many benefits to switching to cacao: while it’s more expensive per gram, it has a stronger, possibly even less bitter taste than cocoa. I love swapping cocoa for cacao in my chocolate and peanut butter smoothies, making it a slightly fruitier, sweeter taste, with less powder needed (I’d say 3/4 of the normal amount quoted for cocoa is enough!)
Cocoa also provides a low dose of caffeine (roughly 60mg in a cup of hot chocolate, which is less than the 90-150mg in a cup of coffee), making it a perfect addition to breakfast smoothie bowls. It also contains energy-boosting magnesium, which is often hard to come by in food.
Plus, cacao has been proven to brighten your mood due to its theobromine content, and its antioxidants further boosts your health in all sorts of ways.
(On saying that, I should really explain my obsession with antioxidants – healthy food is a multi-pronged illness prevention and aid in staying healthy, so it can never really be pigeonholed to doing just one thing! Antioxidants are a great example of this, staving off cell regeneration, and preventing things like premature skin ageing.)
The only time not to switch to cacao is when you’re cooking. In any recipes that require cooking or baking, go for cocoa, as this is already roasted, and won’t degrade further, whereas you may lose some of the nutritional benefits of cacao when cooking it.
Overall – I’m not going to give cocoa a second glance, unless I ever want to cook with it. Cacao is a much better swap for all its raw applications, and I prefer the taste too!