Cacao or Cocoa?

health nutrition Jun 22, 2022

What? There is a difference? I have gone through most of my life not knowing there was any difference! But there is!

Cacao is part of cocoa. And while this is open to interpretation to some, cacao is raw, less processed, and cocoa is roasted. The difference is in how processed the beans are.

Cacao grows from the Theobroma cacao tree. These trees are native to South America, West Africa and some countries in Asia. The most popular cultivar groups of cacao beans used to make cocoa and chocolate include Criollo, used by the Mayas, which produces a less bitter and more aromatic bean. Only 5 – 10% of chocolate is made using this bean, as it is highly prized and rare. The Forastero trees produce cheaper beans and are used for 80% of the world's chocolate. Arriba variety is considered the best one. The Trinitario, a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, is used in 10 – 15% of chocolate production.

Cacao pods are yellow, oval-shaped pods that contain white pulp and seeds. The harvesting occurs when the pods are cracked open, and the seeds are scooped out with pulp still attached. They are then fermented, roasted, and made into chocolate. If it interests you, I have briefly outlined the process below. If not, scroll down to why I am obsessed with cacao and discover the tremendous health benefits.

After being harvested the beans are fermented. The fermentation of the seeds and pulp is crucial. The microbes that feed on the pulp ferment the beans to develop and intensify the chocolate flavour and aroma. The fermented beans are dried, sorted, and sold to chocolate makers.

Cacao comes out here before the roasting. Raw cacao usually undergoes cold pressing to remove the cacao butter leaving behind pure, dark, rich cacao.

Cocoa is the roasted bean, further developing the chocolate flavour and offering some sweetness. Different chocolate manufacturers have their roasting techniques to achieve their flavour profile.

After roasting, the nibs are extracted from their shells, ground to make an alcohol-free liquor, and cocoa butter is extracted from this liquor. Cocoa butter is the main ingredient in chocolate. You may even notice it on the ingredient list in some moisturisers.

The liquor is dried and ground into cocoa powder. Cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and sugar are combined to make chocolate. The amount of cocoa liquor in the chocolate determines how dark the chocolate will be. Milk is added to make milk chocolate.

Why am I obsessed with cacao?

It is nutrient-dense, and I get my 'chocolate' fix without all the nasties! It is not as sweet as usual chocolate, but if you enjoy dark chocolate, you can easily move to cacao.

While both cacao and cocoa have nutrient-dense profiles including iron, magnesium, zinc and copper, cacao is more potent in antioxidants. The flavanols, which have antioxidant properties, may help fight certain cancers and promote heart health. The wonderful amino acid tryptophan is also present, and this helps relaxation. And copper supports iron and glucose metabolism and is essential for brain development.

In 28g (1 ½ tsp) of cacao, the mineral nutrient profile reads

Mineral                %DV (Daily Value)

Calcium               2%
Iron                      6%
Magnesium         16%
Phosphorus         9%
Potassium           6%
Zinc                     6%
Copper                25%
Manganese         27%
Selenium             3%
Sodium                0%

Impressive isn’t it! Cacao nibs are low in sugar and a good source of fibre, protein and healthy fats.

You can reap the benefits of the minerals by adding some raw cacao nibs or powder to a smoothie. Add cacao nibs to your nut butter, mix them with nuts and dried fruit for an afternoon energy snack and add them to your overnight oats. Use it when you are making raw desserts. I still add them to my baked desserts, but cooking may destroy the antioxidants, removing some health benefits.

You may like to make your raw chocolate! Melt together 1 cup of coconut oil and 1 cup of raw cacao nibs. Add in some honey. Pour into moulds, sprinkle a little sea salt over the filled moulds and set in the refrigerator. Just don't eat too many, as you may experience similar side effects of too much caffeine. Also, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, seek medical advice before eating cacao nibs.

How will you use highly nutritious cacao nibs? Did any of the benefits surprise you? Let me know in the comments below.


And as always, remember your reasons, your health, your mission and the people you love.


OM xx


 📸 Photo by Tetiana Bykovets


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