What's the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?

Cacao powder is popping up on menus and ingredient lists more often, but what is it and how is it different from regular cocoa powder? They're both types of chocolate, but cacao is considered a raw ingredient and cocoa is a processed ingredient. If you're curious about cacao powder, keep reading to learn more about this rich, chocolatey ingredient and how to use it the right way.

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What Is Cacao Powder?

a dish filled with dark brown cacao poweder

Cacao powder is made from ground cacao beans, which are the seeds of the cacao fruit. Each pod-shaped fruit contains about 35 to 50 seeds that are covered in sweet, white pulp. This jelly-like pulp is left clinging to the harvested seeds while they go through a fermentation process to develop the flavor of the beans. After fermentation, cacao beans are processed at a very low heat, then crumbled into cacao nibs or ground into powder.

What Does Cacao Taste Like?

Cacao powder and cacao nibs have a deep chocolate flavor that is more bitter than processed cocoa products. It tastes similar to a very dark chocolate bar that contains no sugar.

How to Pronounce Cacao

The proper way to pronounce the word cacao is kuh-kau. This is different from the pronunciation of cocoa, which is ko-ko.

Is Cacao Chocolate?

Cacao is considered chocolate in its purest form. It's the raw ingredient from which all chocolate is made, even white chocolate.

Can I Use Cacao Instead of Cocoa?

Yes, cacao powder can be used in place of cocoa powder with a 1:1 ratio. You can try this substitution in a variety of foods, but be careful with any recipe that calls for dutch-process cocoa. Unlike traditional cocoa powder and cacao powder, dutched cocoa is alkaline (instead of acidic). If you use cacao powder in place of dutch-process cocoa, the resulting texture and rise may be a little different than what you expect.

How to Use Cacao Powder

Cacao powder is becoming more well-known as a raw superfood ingredient, making it a great addition to menus that highlight healthy, whole-food dishes. Try using cacao powder instead of cocoa powder in these applications:

  • Smoothies and Smoothie Bowls - Add a twist to your smoothie shop menu by using cacao powder in place of cocoa to make rich, chocolatey smoothies or smoothie bowls.
  • Healthy Snacks - Cacao-dusted nuts, protein-packed cacao energy squares, and granola with cacao nibs are just a few of the healthy snacks you can make with cacao.
  • Tonics and Elixers - Healthy tonics and teas that contain superfood ingredients and adaptogens (foods that help the body deal with stress) are becoming more prevalent on beverage menus. Instead of hot chocolate, try offering a hot cacao drink with coconut milk, ginger, and turmeric for a soothing anti-inflammatory beverage.
  • Natural Food Coloring - Cacao powder can be used as a natural food coloring to add dark brown color to cakes, frostings, or fondant. Just remember it has a bitter taste!
  • Artisan Chocolates - Confections made with 100% raw cacao instead of cocoa offer a richer flavor and a boost of antioxidants, making them ideal for your artisan candy shop menu.

Comparing Cocoa and Cacao

Difference Between Cocoa and Cacao

Cocoa and cacao are two products that come from the same plant, the Theobroma cacao tree. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but when it comes to labeling chocolate products in the US, they represent different things. Cacao is used to describe the fruit from the cacao tree, the raw seeds inside the fruit (cacao beans), and the powder made from the unroasted seeds (cacao powder). Cocoa is often used as a catch-all term to describe the drink hot cocoa, cocoa beans, and cocoa powder.

Cocoa Powder vs Cacao Powder

Cocoa powder is made from cacao beans that have been roasted at a high temperature. Cacao powder, however, is made from cacao beans that are lightly roasted and cold-pressed. The final cacao product retains more minerals and antioxidants than processed cocoa powder. When it comes to flavor, cacao powder has a deeper, earthier flavor than cocoa powder.

Cacao Powder FAQs

Cacao Powder FAQs

We answer some common questions about cacao powder below:

Which Is Healthier Cocoa or Cacao?

Raw cacao products are considered healthier than processed cocoa because they contain more minerals and antioxidants. Cacao powder is also considered a healthier option than chocolate products that contain high amounts of sugar.

Does Cacao Have Sugar?

Cacao powder contains no added sugars. Natural sugars are present, but the amount is negligible, usually less than 0.1 grams.

Is Cacao Acidic?

Yes, cacao powder is naturally acidic with a pH level of around 5-6. Why is this important? The acidity in cacao powder will react with baking soda to create leavening (rise).

Cacao powder is the perfect ingredient if you're trying to introduce healthy, superfoods into your menu. It works especially well in smoothies and snacks when you want to increase the nutritional value while adding a delicious, dark-chocolate flavor.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips|By Michale LeRoy
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