Cacao vs cocoa. What is the difference between the two? Is cacao really better for you than cocoa?
What is cacao?
Strictly speaking, cacao is the name given to the plant that gives us the raw form of chocolate. The cacao tree, with the botanical name Theobroma Cacao, bears fruits known as cacao pods, with cacao seeds inside. Just to confuse matters more, these seeds are what we also know as cocoa beans. There is no legislation on the naming of related products so the word cacao is interchangeable with the word cocoa.
However it is generally accepted nowadays, as we come to appreciate the power of raw chocolate, that when we say cacao what we mean is the raw natural form. Bought as cacao powder or cacao nibs, this raw unsweetened source of chocolate is a bonafide superfood.
Be aware that when you are buying cacao you need to clarify that it is indeed raw. Some manufacturers label products as cacao (and it is perfectly acceptable for them to do so) but it has been roasted. Our cacao powder and cacao nibs are in their natural raw form.
What are cacao nibs?
Cacao nibs are crushed cocoa bean fragments. All cacao, raw or roasted, has been through certain steps of processing. The production of nibs is one of those steps.
The pods of the cacao tree are first harvested and then split open. The cocoa beans are removed and left to ferment for about a week. This step is vital as it develops the flavour of the beans into the chocolate tones we are all familiar with. The moist beans are then left to dry.
The difference between cacao and cocoa
If the difference between cacao and cocoa is that cacao is the raw product, then this is the stage at which the difference lies. Once dried, the beans are either roasted or left in their natural un-heat processed state. They are then cracked open and crushed to produce nibs.
To produce powder the nibs are ground into a mass. As the beans contain fat (cocoa butter) this is a liquid mass known as cocoa liquor. This is then pressed to remove the fat. What is left is powder. Cacao powder from raw nibs, cocoa powder from roasted nibs.
Cocoa powder is sometimes processed even further to reduce acidity. Treated with an alkalising process, it becomes less bitter, sweeter, darker in colour and more soluble. Which is great for chocolatiers; less great for the nutrient levels.
Does cacao have caffeine?
Both cocoa and cacao do contain caffeine but analysis has shown that raw cacao can contain over twice as much caffeine as its roasted brethren.
Is cacao healthy?
Both cacao and cocoa are rich in vitamins and minerals, but the raw form has more of its nutrients intact. Cocoa nibs also have all the healthy fats of the original bean. Raw cacao is rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium. One of the highest antioxidant foods on the scale, raw cacao is packed full of plant-based chemicals that energise both body and mind. The heat processing involved in production of cocoa powder severely depletes the levels of many of these nutrients.
The benefits of cacao for weight loss
We all love chocolate, right? And we already know that it is full of feel good chemicals. But it also comes with a not-so-healthy dose of fats and sugars. So not exactly a health food. But raw cacao can actually aid weight control. A mood booster that helps us to stay positive, cacao may also boost metabolism and help to burn calories more efficiently. It may also suppress the appetite by regulation of certain hormones.
Are cacao nibs keto friendly?
Cacao nibs and cacao powder are both low-carb, but nibs provide more fat so are an excellent choice for those on a keto diet.
How to use cacao
Can I use cacao instead of cocoa?
Cacao powder can be used interchangeably with cocoa powder, anywhere that you want add the flavour of chocolate. It may have slightly different properties, such as being a little less soluble, but you can begin by swapping out on a 1 to 1 ratio. Take note that if you bake with raw cacao powder the heat will destroy some of the antioxidants and other heat sensitive nutrients. Your best bet is to use cacao in raw products such as raw brownies, bliss balls, and smoothies.
You can use cacao nibs in place of chocolate chips but they will not melt like chocolate. So, you can’t use them to melt and pour, but you can add them into cookies and cakes. Again, beware of nutrient loss under baking temperatures. They do make a great crunchy addition to granola, trail mix, or nice cream.
There really are lots of creative ways that you can enjoy cacao instead of cocoa or chocolate.
Does cacao taste like chocolate?
Yes, cacao does taste like chocolate in that it has the unmistakable character of chocolate. Porridge with cacao powder stirred in is most definitely chocolately. Ditto smoothies. Added to creamy ingredients rounds out the bitterness and enhances sweetness so you don’t need to add sugar to make it yummy.
Raw chocolate and cacao are strong and bitter, like eating 90% chocolate. Eating raw cacao nibs on their own is a little like eating coffee beans, but with other ingredients the chocolatey flavour is enhanced.
How to store cacao powder
Store your cacao products in an airtight container away from the light to prevent degradation of valuable nutrients.
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