Cacao & Cocoa - What's the Difference?

A lot of people think I’m being pretentious or that I’m mistaken when I say cacao (ca-cow) instead of cocoa (co-co), but neither of those are true, I promise!  Although cacao and cocoa come from the same plant and are essentially the same thing, they way they are processed is different, which effects how beneficial they are to our health when eaten.

Cacao is cocoa in its raw state.  ‘Raw’ means that the heat does not exceed 42C during processing.  The cacao pods are picked, the beans removed and then sun dried.  The skin on the beans is removed, leaving behind the nibs.  The nibs are cold pressed to form cacao liquor – a liquid that then hardens into a paste.  The liquor consists of fat (cacao butter) and mass (cacao solids).  The cacao butter is separated from the cacao solids, leaving a mass, which is then dried and made into cacao powder.

To make cocoa, the process is very similar to that of cacao, with a few steps added.  After the pods are split, the pulp and beans are left to ferment.  They are then dried and cracked, usually in the same ways as cacao.  The nibs are then roasted (the key factor which separates cocoa from cacao) at temperatures of around 120C.  The nibs are then pressed, separated and processed to form cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

Cacao.  Every time.   When I initially cut sugar, dairy and gluten from my diet, I thought my relationship with chocolate had ended.  Then I discovered that I could eat it AND that it was good for me… needless to say I bought some straight away.

- It contains flavonoids, a type of antioxidant.  Antioxidants stabilise and destroy free radicals in your body.  Free radicals are a natural by-product created during the metabolic process.  They are also created when your body breaks down environmental toxins.  Antioxidants can also help to reduce inflammation.

- It contains the minerals magnesium, calcium, sulphur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, and manganese.  Cacao contains one of the highest levels of magnesium found in natural foods.  Magnesium helps our bodies to create energy from food and combat fatigue.  It also helps to regulate blood sugar levels, therefore regulating blood pressure.  Sulphur promotes strong nails and shiny hair.  Zinc aids your body in wound healing and proper skin formation.

- It contains these vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 and Vitamin E – read up on the benefits of these here.

- It contains anandamide and phenylethylamine (PEA).  Both are mood boosters and PEA is also an aphrodisiac!

- It balances hormonal mood swings.  Why do women crave chocolate when experiencing PMS?  There has to be a scientific reason, surely…  Cacao boosts serotonin (the feel good chemical found in your brain), the levels of which drop when experiencing PMS.

- If deficient in magnesium, the sleep regulating hormone melatonin is disturbed. 

- It improves skin hydration, giving your skin an enhanced look and feel.

- It helps to keep bones strong.  Approximately 50% of our body’s magnesium is stored in our bones. 

- Not enough magnesium results in a build up of lactic acid, causing muscle cramps and tightness.

highly recommend making your own raw chocolates.  Dairy inhibits the absorption of the nutrients in cacao - making your own chocolates gives you the option of making them dairy free.

Other than that, it can be used in exactly the same ways as cocoa.  Eat it raw (uncooked) to receive the maximum health benefits.  Why not try these recipes…