What is the difference between Cocoa and Cacao?

Ever got confused between the term cocoa and cacao?  there is more to it than just a change of vowels. It dates back to the way cocoa beans were processed and refined. Here you will come to know the exact difference between Cocoa and Cacao?


The botanical name of the tree that gives us sweet, delicious chocolate is called the Theobroma Cacao Tree. This tree is native to the Mesoamericans and the word cacao comes from the people of this region. Hispanic languages use the word cacao to describe what we know as cocoa. The word cocoa actually came from a spelling mistake that was never corrected, When the cocoa bean was sourced to Europe, Cacao was known to be called as Cocoa.

You might like to read – Introduction to Chocolates – an Interesting History You Should Know

Some experts use cacao for the pods, beans, and nibs of the beans and they refer to Cocoa as the powder left after grinding up the beans. While some experts refer to the less processed cocoa powder as cacao.

What is the difference between Cocoa and Cacao?

The main difference between cocoa and cacao all comes down to the heat. Cocoa is referred to the cocoa beans when they are subjected to high temperatures, while cacao is referred to as the beans when they are subjected to low temperatures. Cacao beans are unfermented and are not roasted while cocoa beans are fermented and roasted.

In terms of taste, Cacao is slightly more bitter than Cocoa. Cacao also is slightly darker as it isn’t processed as much as cocoa. Cacao is highly nutritious and it is an essential product in the vegan diet. Cocoa, on the other hand, is a little less nutritious. Cacao is also cold-pressed thereby retaining its high nutritional value while cocoa is highly processed.

What is dutch processed Cocoa?

Cocoa beans are generally acidic, but when cocoa beans are alkalized the cocoa powder,it is known as dutch processed cocoa. An alkaline solution such as potassium carbonate is added to chocolate liquor(coca solids like cocoa powder  and cocoa butter) this increases the ph of the mix to a range between 5.7 to 7.2. This causes the cocoa powder to become darker in color and slightly bitter.

What are the benefits of Cacao?

Cacao beans are unprocessed cocoa beans and they have recently been given the term “superfood” due to its powerful nutritional value and immense health benefits. Cacao beans have very high antioxidants and high iron content. Cacao nibs are known to be heart-friendly and are known to reduce diabetes. Cacao beans which are flushed with flavenoids are also known to have anti-cancer properties.

Cacao beans are proven to work against inflammation and also used as a mood elevator.

Can you substitute Cocoa with Cacao?

Cacao can be substituted with Cocoa, but keep in mind that cocoa tends to be more bitter so the sweetener added in the recipe should be of a higher amount than what is recommended. Cacao is more absorbent than cocoa so it is vital to increase the amount  of liquid  in the recipe. Cacao is more acidic than cocoa, so the leavener that must be used is baking soda instead of baking powder. The acid in the cacao will react with the baking soda thereby acting as a rising agent.

Where can you incorporate Cacao?

You can add cacao into baked goods. If you are looking for a healthy swap and healthier ingredients, we recommend adding cacao, one or two tablespoons go a long way to adding that intense rich chocolate flavor.

You can mix cacao beans into your nuts (snack mix). This is a healthier option and it tastes absolutely divine with dried fruits. Cacao is best paired with dried apricots, and dried blueberries.

Smoothies are one of the main areas where cacao nibs are used they are slightly bitter and they totally balance out the sweetness of the fruits.

Homemade Coffee Drinks can be a great alternative to caffeinated drinks (cola). Add a few tablespoons of cacao nibs and you get a chocolatey mocha without a lot of added sugar.

Dairy-free Ice Cream also, known as “nice cream” is a favorite treat in the vegan community. It is typically made of blended frozen bananas, adding cacao nibs will give the treat an intense chocolate flavor.

Cacao is packed with antioxidants and high nutritional value, It is the emerging superfood and it is here to stay. Now that you know all about Cacao we encourage you to try to incorporate Cacao in your diet.

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