Have you ever thought about why do some people say “cocoa” and others say “cacao”? Do you even know that these are two various things? Do not hesitate to answer the truth, because I found out about the difference between “cacao” and “cocoa” just a couple of days before this article was published.
So If you think as I used to that “cacao” and “cocoa” are just two names of one thing, stay here. We need to update your sweet data immediately!
I bet, no matter what do you hear “cacao” or “cocoa,” your first ideas are about something chocolaty. That’s totally fine because baking and pastry are the most common areas where cacao beans are being used. But let’s finally figure out what is what and how to use it.
Whatever we name as "chocolate" starts its way from the same source - Theobroma cacao tree. This is a small tree originally grown in tropical South America which produces seed pods. To get those seeds, harvesters open the pods by cracking them and take out something similar to coffee beans but what we indeed call cocoa either cacao beans (at this stage the spelling difference doesn’t matter). So let’s imagine that we got our beans, dried them and ready to send for further processing. What happens next determines whether they become cacao or cocoa.
You might hear that raw either minimally-processed cacao beans are super healthy foods. No wonder why: they are perfect antioxidants that increase your mood, protect the heart, lower blood pressure, regulate insulin levels and that are also incredibly rich in nutrients. But don’t think that you will get that healing power of cacao beans while eating any forms of chocolate and here is why.
Most of the smarty articles and chocolaty studies that claim how cacao beans are helpful for us don’t consider chocolates you’d find at the store. All the analyses and conclusions are made for cacao beans themselves (raw or unprocessed). Apparently, these beans are being transformed many times before they get into supermarkets for retail. But now we came even closer to the “cacao” and “cocoa” difference.
As you guessed already, the main difference is in the processing. No matter what is the final form but the essential part of the cacao production is a low temperature of heating. While working with cacao products, manufacturers don’t use high temperatures at all but still separate the fatty parts of beans, take what’s left and turn it into nibs, chips, bars, a fine dark cacao powder or make a cacao butter from the fattiest part. But all you need to keep in mind is that cacao products are associated with low temperatures.
Now let’s move to our second sweet competing - “cocoa.”
Cocoa starts the same way cacao does: gets harvested as the plant’s seed pods and extracted from beans. However, it’s being processed at much higher temperatures by manufacturers. This gives that slightly sweeter flavor than cacao has which makes cocoa powder extremely popular in dessert recipes.
But high temperatures also change some health effects. In the markets you can find two types of the cocoa powder: the Dutch one which comes processed with an alkalized chemical solution and the natural cocoa powder which is a bit more acidic and bitter than previous. However, if you’re wondering which cocoa powder to get, I’d suggest you stay with the plain versions.
Obviously, after being processed at high temperatures there are a few useful properties, or they are completely absent, but such powder “mixes” might contain a lot of sugar or other sweeteners that can only harm you. For these reasons cocoa products are slightly cheaper and a bit easier to find than cacao ones. It can be a real challenge to find a high-quality cocoa item without additives.
Cacao and cocoa start from the same place, but the processing makes all the difference. The higher temperatures are used, the more beans are being affected on a molecular level: their structure gets changed and nutrient elements destroyed.
So next time you think to buy the cacao powder or the cocoa one, go with something that is beneficial for you. And keep in mind: the difference is in the temperatures.