If you’re a chocolate lover you may be familiar with the terms cacao and cocoa. Perhaps you know that one is superior to the other, but do you know why? Both cacao and cocoa begin their culinary journey in the same way. They’re both derived from the cacao plant which produces pods containing beans that are similar in appearance to a coffee bean. The cacao bean is chocolate in its purest form, untouched, and completely raw. It’s how the cacao bean is handled and processed, where we see the divide between cacao and cocoa.
Cacao Vs. Cocoa
What Is Cacao?
The cacao is extracted from the cacao plant, removing the beans from their pods. The bean’s flavor will be dependent on the cacao variety. Cacao comes in three main types; Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario. The forastero cacao bean is the most commonly used bean to produce chocolate in the world. The forastero accounts for 80% of the world’s chocolate supply.
In comparison to the other cacao plants, forastero is hardier and less susceptible to disease making it a fine choice for harvesting to produce large quantities of chocolate. Typically, cacao has a bitter taste and a mild chocolate aroma. The beans can be consumed raw, however, they are usually gently processed into cacao powder or butter. The beans are processed over low heat, preserving the enzymes, vitamins, and nutrients setting it apart from overly processed cocoa powders and butter. The heat allows the oils to be extracted from the beans, which are used as cacao butter. Once the fat has been removed from the cacao beans, they can then be ground into cacao powder.
What Is Cocoa?
Similar to cacao, cocoa comes from the cacao plant. The pods are harvested and cracked open. Inside the pods, the beans wait to be extracted. The fate of this cacao bean is somewhat different, as it will be exposed to higher heats to produce cocoa powder. The elevated temperature changes the molecular structure of the cacao bean thus eliminating, not only some distinct flavors, but essential enzymes, vitamins, and nutrients that make cacao different from cocoa. Cocoa powder is prevalent in conventional baking, so it’s common to have sugars and other processed ingredients added to this cocoa. Unfortunately, the addition of processed ingredients harm any lasting integrity of the already depleted nutrients in the cocoa from the bean pod.
Health Benefits Of Cacao
Cacao offers some fantastic health benefits, that will never have you skipping out on a cacao-based dessert.
- Cacao can reduce your risk of heart disease with flavanols which improve blood vessel function
- Cacao improves mood with compounds such as phenylethylamine, serotonin, and anandamide. Phenylethylamine helps the brain remain focused, and alert. Both serotonin and anandamide play roles in mood elevation
- Commonly referred to as a superfood and chockful of antioxidants, more so than blueberries, and acai; cacao protects the body’s cells from damage done by free radicals.
- Cacao can help fight diabetes, by reducing insulin resistance.
How to Consume Both Cacao and Cocoa
Both cacao and cocoa can be added to many different dishes. Cocoa is most traditionally used in conventional baking to make that delicious chocolatey taste we’re all so familiar with when it comes to chocolate flavored baked goods. However, cocoa is versatile and can be used in many ways. Don’t limit yourself to just cake.
Add cocoa to:
- Peanut Butter
Cacao, on the other hand, is a bit more intense in flavor than cocoa. A little bit goes a long way, and it offers a wealth of nutrients. Since cacao is so nutritionally dense finding ways to add it to your diet daily would be ideal.
Add cacao to:
- Trail mix
- Baked Goods
- Spice Rubs
- Hot beverages
Four Intensely Chocolate Cacao and Cocoa Recipes
1. Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies
This list wouldn’t be complete without a stunningly delicious classic brownie recipe, straight out of Miss Hepburn’s kitchen. This famous dessert is delightfully simple and uses cocoa powder to achieve that rich chocolatey flavor. If you’re a fan of a more fudgy brownie, you’ll certainly enjoy these. The decreased amount of flour creates that fudgy texture.
2. Maca Cacao Hot Chocolate
One of the most popular ways to consume cacao is to whip up cacao powder into a tasty warm beverage. The maca cacao hot chocolate combines two superfoods, both cacao, and maca powder, making this not your average hot cocoa. Maca is described as having a subtle nutty flavor with hints of butterscotch. Similar to cacao it has several health benefits, such as improving your mood and increasing your energy. This hot chocolate is mixed with almond milk, and sweetened with maple syrup. This hot chocolate would be the perfect warm beverage to enjoy on a chilly weekend morning.
3. Dark Chocolate Pudding
This is no ordinary pudding. This pudding has a deep rich chocolate flavor with a lovely creamy texture. It’s a decadent dessert with the addition of eggs, heavy cream and whole milk. The intense chocolate taste is present from both the chopped cacao and cocoa powder. This dessert will impress both you and your guests!
4. Almond And Cacao Crunch Trail Mix
This trail mix is a delicious, healthy nutritious snack. You’ll find cacao nibs, almonds, coconut, raisins, and cranberries in this tasty mix. This simple pick-me-up treat is tart, sweet, and has an excellent crunchy texture. Add this as one of your mid-day snacks to give yourself an extra boost.
Cacao and Cocoa are both derived from the cacao plant. However, cacao is more nutritionally dense whereas cocoa loses valuable nutrients during processing as it’s heated to extremely high temperatures. Incorporating either cacao or cocoa into any dish will offer a rich chocolate flavor that will be hard to resist.