difference between cacao and cocoa

Cacao versus Cocoa: What’s The Difference?


What is it?

The seed from the cocoa plant Theobroma cacao. It’s milled at low temperatures (cold pressed) to preserve its nutrients. Cacao powder is the finely ground unroasted bean, cacao nibs are coarse chunks of cacao bean, cacao butter is the oil extracted from the bean and cacao liquor is a blend of cacao powder and butter.

The health claims?

  1. Cacao is high in antioxidants, which protects against heart disease, protects against cancer and encourages clear glowing skin
  2. It’s a natural mood booster and sleep remedy
  3. Cacao is rich in minerals

The scientific facts?

  • Cacao is jam-packed with antioxidants (they make up 10% of its weight), such as theobromine, catechins and procyanidins. These and a host of other antioxidants in the superfood have been shown by studies to reduce the risk of heart and other cardiovascular diseases, as well as protect against the action of damaging molecules (called free radicals) that lead to cancer and ageing skin.
  • Cacao is a known mood booster – thanks to its ability to raise body levels of tryptophan – an amino acid (as this study shows). Tryptophan brings about restful sleep and is used by the body to make the natural mood-boosting anti-depressant serotonin, which means that a dose of cacao really can put a smile on your face and help you sleep at night.
  • Cacao is completely deserving of its superfood label as it’s crammed with a wide variety of health-boosting vitamins and minerals. Iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, potassium, B vitamins and manganese are just a handful of the nutrients found in every teaspoon of cacao.

Nutritional facts – Cacao versus cocoa

Cacao and cocoa – they look, smell and are spelt almost the same, but the latter is much cheaper and easier to find in shops. Is there really a difference? Here’s how one tablespoon (15g) of both powders compare:

  • Kcals: Cacao powder 60 v Cocoa powder 54
  • Protein: Cacao powder 3g v Cocoa powder 3g
  • Carbohydrates: Cacao powder 9g v Cocoa powder 9g
  • Sugar: Cacao powder 0g v Cocoa powder 0g
  • Fibre: Cacao powder 4g v Cocoa powder 6g
  • Fat: Cacao powder 1.5g v Cocoa powder 3g
  • Vitamins, minerals and miscellaneous nutrients: 2% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium, 8% RDA of iron, and high amounts of phosphorus, magnesium and potassium are present in both cacao and cocoa powder.

Winner: A tie – cacao and cocoa are almost identical in nutritional makeup and there is no proven significant nutritional difference between the two. It’s thought that as cocoa has been heat treated, it has fewer ‘living enzymes’ that may boost gut and immune health, but this is purely a theory. I think cacao probably is more nutritious than cocoa because cooking any live plant-based food generally lowers its nutritional content. But until that’s proven I have to stick to the facts… and they show no real difference between the two. If you do choose to use cocoa instead of cacao, just make sure your cocoa is pure and not pre-mixed with sugar and extra flavourings.

Worth the hype?

Yes. Cacao is a great source of minerals that are good for skin, muscle and bone health. And it’s a sugar-free way of satisfying chocolate cravings while getting a healthy serotonin boost.

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