Cocoa and cacao both come from the cacao bean, but they differ in processing. Cacao refers to the bean itself. It retains more nutrients and has a more bitter taste.
Cocoa is the processed form. It typically has added sugar and sometimes additional fat. It’s used in chocolate and baking.
It’s smoother and sweeter. In a nutshell, cacao is the purer, less processed form, while cocoa is the processed and sweetened version.
Learn more about what sets them apart and which one to use!
Cocoa vs. Cacao (What’s the Difference?)
First, let’s talk about their similarities. Cocoa and cacao come from the same source: the cacao bean of the Theobroma cacao tree.
The seeds are harvested, dried, and fermented. They’re further processed post-fermentation. This process is where cacao and cocoa differ.
Cacao powder is made from cacao beans processed at a low temperature and milled into a powder. It’s minimally processed and has no additives. This allows it to retain the nutritional properties of the cacao seed. It’s also very bitter.
Where cacao goes through minimal processing, cocoa goes through the opposite. Cocoa powder is roasted at a high temperature and infused with additives to lessen the bitterness. It’s not as bitter as cacao powder and has less nutritional value.
What Is Cocoa?
Cocoa or cocoa powder is derived from cacao beans. The beans are fermented and roasted at a high temperature. The high heat rids the beans of their nutrients, but it also lessens their bitterness.
The beans are then milled, creating cocoa powder. Cocoa powder comes in various forms, such as black cocoa and Dutch-process cocoa powder.
What Is Cacao?
Cacao goes through minimal processing than cocoa powder. The fermented beans are roasted at a low temperature..
Because they’re barely altered, cacao gets to keep the beans’ nutrients and antioxidants. That’s why it’s touted as a superfood. It also has no additives, making it vegan-friendly.
Cacao comes in two forms: cacao nibs and cacao powder. Cacao nibs are used as a garnish to baked goods, adding a nice crunch. Cacao powder is popularly used in smoothies, oatmeal, and such.
Etymology of the Word “Cacao”
The term “cacao” originated from the Olmec, Mexico’s earliest known civilization. The Aztecs later adopted this term as “cacahuatl,” symbolizing “bitter or acidic water.” As time passed, the term “cacao” was carried into the era of Spanish conquest.
The Spanish, upon their arrival in the Americas, continued to use the term “cacao” for the plant and its derivatives. In Hispanic languages, “cacao” became the standard term for the plant and its products.
An interesting theory suggests “cocoa” was a spelling mistake. Despite its accidental origin, “cocoa” found favor, especially among English speakers. This error was easier to pronounce and gradually replaced the original term.
In the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, named the plant scientifically. He called it “Theobroma cacao.” The term “Theobroma” translates as “food of the gods.” This reflects the cacao bean’s cultural and spiritual importance in ancient civilizations.
Best Uses of Cacao Products
Cacao is becoming popular again because of the raw vegan diet trend. Raw vegan food makers use “cacao” to show their products differ from those made with roasted beans.
But be careful! Read the ingredients list; sometimes, words are used just to sell products. The kind of cacao you pick depends on what you like and how you plan to use them.
Sweet cacao nibs are made from cacao, sugar, water, corn syrup, and butter. They make a great snack. You can also use them as a crunchy topping to baked goods, trail mix, and smoothie bowls.
Unsweetened cacao nibs are healthier, but they can taste bitter. If you find them too bitter, mix them with regular chocolate chips.
Raw cacao powder tastes superior and is healthier than regular unsweetened cocoa powder. It’s great in smoothies, milkshakes, oatmeal, yogurt, and no-cook puddings.
Can You Substitute Cacao for Cocoa?
Yes, you can replace cocoa powder with cacao powder in some recipes. But there are a few caveats.
First, cacao powder is also a lot more expensive than cocoa powder. Second, cacao powder is less processed, more bitter, and acidic than cocoa powder. So, if you’re making hot chocolate, use less cacao powder. You might also need to add more sugar.
Third, cacao powder has more starch and absorbs more liquid. So, if you’re baking, add more liquid to stop your cake or brownies from drying out.
Last, remember when you use cacao powder in baked dishes, most of its nutrients get lost.
Cocoa vs. Cacao (Which Is Better?)
It depends on your needs and preferences. Cacao is “raw” and less processed, with more nutrients. But it’s also more expensive and has a stronger, bitter taste, which might not suit everyone.
Also, baking with cacao doesn’t make a healthier dessert. The heat from baking can destroy some nutrients in cacao.
So, if you want the full health benefits of cacao, it’s best to eat it raw.
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