They come from the same plant and look the same when powdered, but are Cacao and Cocoa the same thing? Both are derived from the dried and fermented seed that comes from the Theobroma cacao tree, from which we also get cocoa butter. Are there any other differences?
Cacao beans naturally contain fiber, sulfur, essential fatty acids and minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper, and zinc. They also contain phenylethylamine and anandamide, which keep you alert and make you feel happy.
Cacao and cocoa powder rate high on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale, often being scored in the top 10, which means it is a good source of antioxidants. Like most “nutrient powerhouses”, the more processing done to the cacao beans, the less benefits they retain.
Technically speaking, cacao is the seed (often referred to as a bean) from the Cacao Tree (or Cocoa tree, depending on who you’re asking). The seeds are fermented and dried out before being processed further.
Raw cacao powder is a rather misleading term, because the cacao beans are not actually “raw”. First the seeds are fermented, then they are roasted, then the cocoa butter is removed (hopefully through a cold-press process rather than a heat-based process) then it’s ground into powder. The lower the temperature of the roasting, the more nutrients are retained.
Cacao nibs are small bits of cacao beans that have not gone through further processing beyond roasting and chopping. This means that, unlike cacao powder, the nibs contain cocoa butter.
Unsweetened cocoa powder has not necessarily undergone more processing than its cacao counterpart, despite what some websites say. Some manufactures roast the cacao at a higher temperature than others, which can remove some of its nutritional benefits. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know just by looking at the powder or the packaging what the roasting temperature is and it’s not information that is shared on their websites either. Roasting at a higher temperature does remove more of the cocoa butter, so a lower caloric content per gram is one indication that it was processed at a higher temperature.
Dutch processed cocoa powder has most definitely gone through more processing, since that is how the natural acidity of the cocoa powder is neutralized.
Based on my research, there are no conventions or requirements for labeling roasted, ground cacao seeds as “cacao powder” versus “cocoa powder”. If you’re hoping for powder with the highest nutrient content and the least amount of processing, look for a high fat content and the term “cold pressed”, and skip the “dutch processed” variety.
Have you come to similar conclusions about the cacao vs. cocoa debate, or do you have information I missed in my research?