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What’s the difference between cocoa and cacao?

Cocoa is perfect for creating sweeter treats. However, the heat and alkalisation process reduces the amount of minerals and other nutrients. Because cacao is ‘raw’ (AKA minimally processed) it holds onto more of those lovely antioxidants, minerals and other goodies that your body will thank you for. 

Now, all that said, ‘cocoa’ is an English variation of cacao, so some countries don’t have a separate word for it. 

What to look for when buying cacao

Cacao is less processed than cocoa. But, as with most things in life, not all cacao is created equally. Some is processed rather more than the packaging would have you believe, or is sourced from substandard beans. 

Here are our top tips for buying the best cacao:

  • Look for cacao that is either non-alkalised or lightly alkalised. This means it’ll have more nutrients. 
  • Choose cacao made from superior beans, such as those graded ‘fino de aroma’.
  • And, to make sure the grower shares in the love, try to always buy fairly traded, organic cacao.

How to use cacao

You can use cacao powder in much the same way as cocoa powder. Just remember that it does have a stronger, more bitter taste. We love it in Chocolate Orange Oatmeal Bakes, and this gluten-free Espresso and Dark Chocolate Cake is a real showstopper. 

If you’re buying cacao mainly for the health benefits, it’s best to eat it raw, rather than cooked in a cake. Heating cacao removes many of the nutrients. So, try it in a chocolate shake with cow or plant milk, add it to a smoothie or sprinkle it on your porridge. 

You might also want to try cacao nibs. Nibs are gently roasted and crushed cacao beans. They’re rich in flavour and nutrients, and can be added to dishes to replace nuts or chocolate chips. And, for an extra delicious snack, you can’t beat Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs

Choosing cocoa

Some cocoa powders are heavily processed and have added ingredients, such as sugar. This can make baking with them a bit trickier.

At Food Thoughts, we believe in giving bakers more control. So, our 100% organic cocoa powder is just that. There’s no added sugar, additives or flavourings. We use a mix of Criollo, Trinitario and Forastero cocoa beans to bring real depth to the flavour. They’re sun-dried for two weeks, gently roasted and then blended. 

We only lightly alkalise our cocoa, which means it retains more of its nutrients. 

It’s great in cakes, brownies and other desserts, and perfect for making a warming mug of hot cocoa.

And, of course, our cocoa is fairly traded. So, it’s better for bakers and better for growers. 

Frequently asked questions about cacao vs cocoa

Should I buy cocoa or cacao?

Unsure whether to lift cocoa or cacao off the supermarket shelf? The best choice really depends on what you want it for. Pure cocoa powder is ideal for brownies, chocolate cakes, traditional hot chocolate and other sweeter treats. 

However, if you want the full health benefits of cacao or love the rich, bitter taste of dark chocolate, try pure cacao instead. You can use it for baking and for creating ‘grown-up’ hot chocolate. Or just add a sprinkle to your smoothies. 

You’ll find lots of suggestions for using both cocoa and cacao over on our recipe pages

Cacao vs cocoa – which is healthier?

Cocoa beans are packed with a type of antioxidants called flavanols, which are great for your heart and your brain. The beans are also a good source of both protein and fibre, as well as iron, potassium and calcium. Cacao powder is only minimally processed, so it holds onto more of the bean’s nutrients. 

You can read our full article on the health benefits of cacao here

While cocoa doesn’t give you quite as high a dose of nutrients, it also doesn’t contain any ‘nasties’ either. So it’s still healthy, just not quite as virtuous! Look for pure cocoa powder that hasn’t been mixed with sugar, additives, artificial flavourings or other ingredients. 

What is raw cacao?

Cacao is sometimes called ‘raw’ because it hasn’t been roasted and isn’t usually as processed as cocoa powder. It’s made from the same beans as cocoa powder, but it retains more of the nutrients and taste. 

Can I substitute cacao for cocoa?

You can use cacao powder instead of cocoa, but it is quite bitter so may change the taste of your bake. 

Is cocoa vegan?

Both cacao and pure cocoa are vegan. They’re also free from soy and gluten. However, some brands (not us!) do add milk protein and other ingredients to their cocoa powder. So do always check the label. 

Is chocolate a superfood?

Cacao is a great source of antioxidants, along with iron, potassium and calcium. So yes, it can be classed as a superfood. However, once you mix it with sugar and heat it to a high temperature, much of the benefits are lost. 

So those crunchy cacao nibs we mentioned above are definitely a superfood, but a chocolate cake isn’t. Sorry.

What is the difference between cacao butter and cocoa butter?

Cacao butter is the fat of the cacao beans. It’s usually made by cold-pressing cacao beans to extract the fat. It’s a rich source of antioxidants, is dairy-free and has a light chocolate flavour. It also smells deliciously chocolatey. 

You can use cacao butter to cook with and as a luxurious body cream. It’s also often added to beauty products, like lip balms and face masks. 

Cocoa butter is often used as just another name for cacao butter. However, cocoa butter is sometimes heated to a high temperature, while cacao butter isn’t. 

Where can I buy pure cacao powder, cacao nibs and other chocolate ingredients?

Food Thoughts 100% Organic Cacao Powder and other products can be found in most supermarkets, including Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. You can also buy direct from our shop