Cocoa vs cacao

Cocoa vs. Cacao What’s the Difference?

Jan 22, 2015Daniel Ciciora

Cocoa VS Cacao What’s the Difference?

Besides a few letter changes and confusing packaging at the store, it’s no wonder we find that we still don’t quite understand cocoa vs cacao. So, let’s start from the beginning, cocoa is the conventional, English version of the word cacao. When a finished good is described as ‘cocoa’, it is likely that the product has been roasted and, or treated with an alkalizing agent to manipulate its pH and therefore its taste, color and nutritional value. The roasting process can change the biochemistry of the natural bean. Exposure to high heat is destructive to many vitamins and vital nutrients including antioxidants. The benefits of both are detailed below.

Benefits of Raw Cacao

Cacao beans are seeds of the Theobroma cacao tree, a small evergreen tree grown in Mexico and South America. Cacao beans are roasted and ground to produce cocoa and, after further processing, are the basis of chocolate. When the beans are dried at low temperature, however, they are called raw cacao beans, which can be consumed whole, broken into pieces called nibs or ground to produce raw cocoa powder. Cacao beans are rich in natural antioxidant compounds with many health benefits. The theobromine naturally found in raw cacao is a mild, non-addictive stimulant that some believe can treat depression. It may cause the brain to produce more of a neurotransmitter calledanandamide which would account for the euphoric sensation some feel when indulging in chocolate. It may also help boost memory.

Benefits of Cocoa

Eric L. Ding, PhD, of Harvard Medical School says the apparent health benefits of come from polyphenolic flavonoids in cocoa that have the potential to prevent heart disease. Flavonoids are antioxidants that are commonly found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, and coffee. Further research is needed to find out just how much cocoa is need to consume to produce the positive health effects like the prevention of stroke and heart attack.

The Technical Difference

The cacao tree’s official botanical name, Theobroma Cacao literally means 'food of the Gods.’ Cacao beans are found inside the “fruit” of the tree, in football-sized pods. When we see “cacao nibs” or “powdered cacao” for sale, we are seeing the bean in its raw state, uncooked and unprocessed. After the beans are cleaned, roasted and processed, they are called “cocoa.”

The nutritional difference

Cacao and cocoa are both antioxidant powerhouses, though cacao is significantly more powerful. ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) is a method of measuring antioxidants in biological samples. It is likely not something you typically consider as much as calories or other nutritional facts, but it is useful when comparing apples to oranges. Or, er, cocoa to cacao. Raw cacao powder has significantly more antioxidant power. To boot, raw cacao is an excellent source of essential fatty acids, fiber, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, calcium and sulfur. Unfortunately, once roasted and processed, cacao, now cocoa, loses much of its nutritional benefits.

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