Cacao vs Cocoa, What is the difference?

Cacao vs Cocoa?

Cacao vs cocoa - this is cocoa
Cacao vs cocoa, this is cacao

Cacao vs cocoa is a common question. The two are often used interchangeably to refer to the seeds of the cacao tree, but there is a difference between the two terms. Cocoa is made from the roasted seeds of the cacao tree, while cacao is the raw, unroasted seeds of the cacao tree. This means that cocoa is a processed form of cacao, and as a result, it has a slightly different flavor and nutritional profile. Cacao is often considered to be a healthier option because it retains more of the natural nutrients and antioxidants found in the raw cacao seeds.

How are their tastes different?

When discussing the taste difference between cacao vs cocoa. As mentioned earlier, cocoa powder and cacao powder come from the same source, the seeds of the cacao tree. However, since cocoa is made from roasted seeds and cacao is made from raw seeds, they have slightly different flavors. Cocoa powder has a richer, more complex flavor that is often described as earthy, nutty, and slightly bitter. Cacao powder, on the other hand, has a more delicate, fruity flavor that is slightly sweet and slightly sour. Some people also describe the flavor of cacao as being more “chocolatey” than cocoa. Because of these differences in flavor, cocoa and cacao are often used in different types of recipes. For example, cocoa is often used in baking and chocolate making, milk chocolate, dark chocolate and other forms of chocolate are made with cocoa. While cacao is often used in raw, unprocessed foods like smoothies and energy bars.

Is Cocoa or Cacao healthier?

Both cocoa and cacao are good sources of nutrients, including fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc. However, cacao vs cocoa, cacao is generally considered to be the healthier option because it is made from raw, unroasted seeds and retains more of the natural nutrients and antioxidants found in the cacao plant. Cocoa is made from roasted seeds, which can cause the heat-sensitive nutrients and antioxidants to be lost during the roasting process. Additionally, cocoa is often processed with alkali, which can further reduce its nutrient content. In general, raw cacao products are a better choice if you are looking for the most nutrients and antioxidants. However, cocoa is still a healthy option, and it can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. In terms of chocolate, dark chocolate is healthier than milk chocolate. The cacao bean is rich in nutrients and is often sold in cacao nibs. It is also good for dental health! 

Negative site effects of consuming large amount of cocoa include, increased heart rate, jittery or nervousness, sleepless-ness. This is most due to the increased consumption of caffeine. This can also bring on migraine symptoms and headaches. Nausea, stomach pain and gas. Like all things it is best to consume in moderation. In moderation it is known to increase brain function, memory and cognitive/neuron function. There are evidenced based results from clinical studies to back this. It is easy to get a little overzealous with information like this and that is why we mentioned the negative side effects first. It is recommended to not exceed 2oz of cacao in one day. 

Cacao seeds used to make cocoa

More about Cacao

Raw Cacao powder is a superfood. It is packed with nutrients and health benefits. It contains antioxidants, its a great source of iron, magnesium and calcium too. Cacao is the entire reason that dark chocolate is considered a healthy food. The reason why we look forward to eating chocolate might be because of the benefits to our mood. It is known to increase energy levels and make us feel good. It has positive effects on our heart heath and is a strong source of flavonoids. It comes in a form of cacao nib, raw cacao, cacao butter and powder. All are different types of cacao product. 

More about Cocoa

Cocoa is the foundation of chocolate. It has been around for thousands of years. It is the dried seed of the theobroma cacao. Theobroma cacao is a cacao tree and cocoa tree. The cacao is harvested from the cacao pod. Surprisingly this is actually a small evergreen tree. Cocoa solids are actually made into cocoa butter, cocoa paste, syrups, chocolate and chocolate alcohol/liquor most notably. Regular cocoa powder is an authentic pure powder that is processed from the cocoa bean. 

The Dutch Process vs Natural Cocoa Process

Did you know that there are multiple forms of cocoa? Most people only know about the Hershey’s brand Cocoa powder sold at their local grocery store. However, there is actually a dutch processed cocoa powder process, black cocoa, and natural cocoa. When you get deep in the weeds on baking blogs, recipes or baketok, you might find that there a multiple types used in the culinary process. Fortunately, natural cocoa, dutch process or unsweetened will cover you for most bases.

When you read a recipe and it just says simple cocoa, you can assume going with natural will be all good. If you want to get creative though you can use the dutch process. 

So, what exactly is the dutch process? This a process in which the cocoa is treated with an alkalizing ingredient so that it cuts down on the acidity. This cocoa therefore taste smoother and is darker. When deciding what process to use, baking with the dutch process can mean the perfect way to get the smooth chocolate mousse or decadent ganache on top of a cake. 

Natural cocoa is therefore more acidic, less smooth but still delicious. This is the classic cocoa we are all familiar with. You know this taste well from brownies, to store bought cake mixes, chocolate chips, chocolate bar, Halloween candy and more. You could say that natural cocoa is “average” cocoa. 

When baking at home you can experiment in recipes but just take note of the type of powder you use and add either baking soda or baking powder to your mix. Your grandmas favorite chocolate cake could be rivaled by a more smooth recipe if you exchange it for the dutch process cocoa!

Why it matters?

When baking you might notice that a lot of recipes call for baking soda in addition to cocoa. That is because cocoa as mentioned above is acidic, so we have to cut that acidity with a an alkalizing agent. That’s what the baking soda is there for. When using the dutch processed cocoa powder the recipe will call for baking powder. That is because dutch-process cocoa is neutral and so is baking powder. Simple enough!

Interesting Additions

Raw cacao bean comes from the theobroma cacao tree. When it is processed a chocolate maker can turn it into many types of chocolate product. There a varying type of cacao but, 100 cacao (100%) means there is no fat or sugar. That would be on the high end of the bitter scale. Understanding the percentages can help when picking out chocolate per your taste preference. When cocoa liquor is made, it is in pure paste form. So, there fore pure cacao whether roasted cacao beans or cacao seed or cocoa nibs, it is all made into cacao paste and then in turn sold as cacao liqour. Cacao liquor is popular and can be used in cocktails and culinary desserts. Now, have you ever met someone that doesn’t like hot chocolate, no? Me either, hot chocolate is made by either melting down chocolate or mixing cocoa powder with a cream or milk base. You can make your own preferred sweetness level with added sugar. Some people even like to add coffee bean to their hot chocolate. I mean, why not, make it a mocha, then go ahead and add some chocolate liquor! We’ve made it this far! We recommend using The Natural Spot Cocoa powder and adding sugar to taste. You can choose your own milk whether you prefer, soy, coconut, oat or dairy. 

Cocoa is the primary ingredient in hot chocolate

What are their price differences?

In general, cocoa powder is less expensive than cacao powder because it is a more processed form of the cacao plant. Cocoa is made from the roasted seeds of the cacao tree, while cacao is made from the raw, unroasted seeds. The process of roasting the seeds is less labor-intensive and less expensive than the process of harvesting and fermenting the raw seeds to make cacao. As a result, cocoa is often less expensive than cacao, especially in its processed forms like cocoa powder and chocolate bars. However, high-quality, raw cacao products can be more expensive than lower-quality cocoa products. It ultimately depends on the type and quality of the product you are looking at. It is important to purchase the cocoa from a reputable site. Purchasing from environmentally conscious a fair trade companies is always the best way to go. 

Why Purchase Your Cacao or Cocoa from The Natural Spot

We care. We supply fresh cocoa and cacao from fair trade companies, and we package it in compostable environmentally friendly paper bags. That way you can recycle the bags when you are done or add the powder to jars or can to refill your stock. 

You can buy your own refill-able jars for spices and ingredients here. Search for air tight seal containers to find the design you want for your kitchen. We actually use those in our cabinet and it creates a very minimal clean look that makes finding the spice you need quickly and efficiently. 

For more information on cacao vs cocoa or if you have any questions please feel to reach out to us on our contact page. We are happy to assist you in any way we can.


Bag of Cocoa Bean nibs from the Natural Spot
Bag of Cocoa Bean powder from the Natural Spot

You can buy Organic Cacao Powder here!

2 thoughts on “Cacao vs Cocoa, What is the difference?”

  1. I saw you guys on NBC 5 Saturday morning. You’re what I’ve been looking for, I think. Looking forward to browsing your site.

    1. The Natural Spot

      Hi David!
      Thanks for tuning in to NBC 5 and for your interest in The Natural Spot! We specialize in providing the high-quality spices, teas, herbs, and chiles (including cacao!). We understand and believe in the importance of natural and organic ingredients, and we strive to offer the best selection and be the best spice store on the market. We appreciate your support and look forward to you browsing our website. Let us know if you have any questions or if there’s anything we can help you with!

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