Cocoa vs Cacao
February 27, 2014
By Tiffaney Nish, B.HSc, ANutr
Cocoa vs Cacao
Cacao is fast becoming a mainstream 'health' food. From healthy smoothies to homemade ice cream, protein bars and desserts, the emphasis is now on cacao over cocoa.

With a myriad of recipes now asking for expensive ingredients such as almond meal, coconut oil, flour, butter, and various nectars, it's easy to be tempted to stick with the cocoa powder already in your pantry and save yourself some dollars (and space!).

So is cacao really that different to cocoa? Doesn't it all come from the one bean? Is cacao actually that much better for you than cocoa?

What is the Difference between Cocoa and Cacao?

Cocoa powder generally refers to cocoa beans that have been roasted first, whereas cacao beans have been kept 'raw' throughout their processing. The high heats generated through roasting often compromises the nutrition rich in raw cacao beans.

Cold-pressing the cacao beans to extract the cacao butter results in a raw cacao powder that is abundant in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and retains a lower pH and rich colour. Once roasted, cocoa beans can be processed in two different ways to liberate the cocoa butter.

The Broma process is a method used to remove cocoa butter from cocoa mass, leaving natural cocoa powder. Cocoa mass is ground up cocoa beans, and when left exposed to gentle heat, the cocoa butter (a fat which gives chocolate the desirable consistency), separates from the solids (cocoa powder). This method is more traditional and results in a natural cocoa powder with a sharp, slightly acidic flavour, which is used in baking as it reacts with leavening agents such as baking soda.

Dutch processed cocoa powder has been treated with an alkalising agent that reduces the bitter quality, lightens the colour, and brings it to a more neutral pH, making it more palatable. Although more soluble in water, it is significantly lower in flavonoids and may not have the desired effect in baking.

Much of the cocoa on the supermarket shelves is a bi-product of chocolate making. More cocoa butter is needed than cocoa powder, thus providing a relatively large, cheap supply of the unwanted cocoa powder.

The Benefits of Raw Cacao
  • Raw cacao is rich in magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese. Cacao nibs are supposed to be one of the richest sources of magnesium, and make a great substitute for chocolate chips!
  • Raw cacao can relax blood vessels via the action of nitric oxide. The vasodilation properties can lower blood pressure, the flavonoids can protect the blood vessels from cholesterol oxidation, therefore making cacao cardio-protective.
  • Raw cacao is rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Raw cacao powder has up to four times the level of flavonoids compared with normal cocoa.
  • Raw cacao is high in sulphur compounds, which contribute to healthy hair, liver detoxing, metabolism and healthy pancreatic function.
  • Raw cacao contains feel-good substances anandamide and phenylethylamine (PEA), a mood-enhancing molecule found naturally in the brain.
Raw cacao is definitely worth the extra dollars. Use it to make a chocolate that tastes as good as it is for you!

For a great recipe using raw cacao, check out this recipe for Raw Chocolate.

Tiffaney Nish, ANutr, graduated with a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutrition & Exercise Science) from Deakin University after studying Nutritional Medicine at Endeavour College, and has worked for Healthy Life, the YMCA and Belgravia Leisure. When she's not inspiring good health through health coaching and group fitness classes, you'll find her in the kitchen whipping up delicious, healthy, and often raw sweet treats! You can contact Tiffaney at
"Raw cacao is rich in magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese. Raw cacao powder has up to four times the level of flavonoids compared with normal cocoa."