On initial impressions it might seem like the only real difference between cacao and cocoa is the spelling. But there’s a little more to it than that…
What is cacao?
Cacao can refer to any of the food products derived from cacao beans – the seeds or nuts of the cacao tree. These include cacao nibs, cacao butter, cacao mass or paste and (probably the most common) cacao powder.
Cacao v cocoa powder
Raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cocoa.
The cacao fruit tree, also known as Theobroma Cacao, produces cacao pods which are cracked open to release cacao beans. From there, cacao beans can be processed a few different ways.
Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. It is white in color and has a rich, buttery texture that resembles white chocolate in taste and appearance.
Cacao butter is removed from the bean during production and the remaining part of the fruit is used to produce raw cacao powder.
Cacao nibs are simply cacao beans that have been chopped up into edible pieces, much like chocolate chips without the added sugars and fats. Cacao nibs contain all of the fiber, fat, and nutrients that the cacao bean does.
Cacao paste comes from cacao nibs that have been slowly heated to preserve the nutrients and are melted into a bark known that is a less-processed form of dark chocolate bars. Cacao paste can be used to make raw vegan desserts or you can just eat it as an indulgent snack by itself!
Cacao powder contains more fiber and calories than cocoa powder since more of the nutrients from the whole bean are still intact.
Cocoa looks the same but it’s not. Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures. Surprisingly, it still retains antioxidants in the process and is still excellent for your heart, skin, blood pressure, and even your stress levels. But roasting does change the molecular structure of the cocoa bean, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value.
So what are the health benefits of cacao?
Cacao powder has been linked to a variety of benefits:
- Lowering insulin resistance.
- Protecting your nervous system: Cacao is high in resveratrol, a potent antioxidant also found in red wine, known for its ability to cross your blood-brain barrier to help protect your nervous system.
- Shielding nerve cells from damage.
- Cutting your risk of stroke.
- Lowering blood pressure.
- Reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease: The antioxidants found in cacao help to maintain healthy levels of nitric oxide (NO) in the body. Although NO has heart-benefiting qualities, such as relaxing blood vessels and reducing blood pressure, it also produces toxins. The antioxidants in cacao neutralise these toxins, protecting your heart and preventing disease.
- It guards against toxins: As a potent antioxidant, cacao can repair the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the risk of certain cancers. In fact, cacao contains far more antioxidants per 100g than acai, goji berries and blueberries. Antioxidants are responsible for 10 per cent of the weight of raw cacao.
- It can boost your mood: cacao can increase levels of certain neurotransmitters that promote a sense of well-being. And the same brain chemical that is released when we experience deep feelings of love – phenylethylamine – is found in chocolate.
- It provides minerals: magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese.
If cacao is more beneficial than cocoa because it’s raw, what happens when we cook it?
There is no current research on whether or not heating raw cacao destroys its antioxidant level, making it more akin to its heated and processed cousin cocoa. BUT, starting off with the product in its raw form, has to be more beneficial than starting with an already heated and processed equivalent.
Browse our range of raw cacao products by clicking on this link. Or pop into the Boutique where one of our staff will be able to talk you through our range.