Cacao versus cocoa—it’s not just a typo! While many are familiar with cocoa as a chocolaty treat, fewer are aware of its purer form cacao. Read on to discover just what cacao is and what the key differences are between these chocolate sources.
What is Cacao?
Cacao is the raw form of cocoa. It is the purest edible form of chocolate and comes from the cacao fruit tree, just as cocoa does. These trees grow pods that contain cacao beans, and when the pods are harvested, they are taken apart to create different products.
The inner lining of the pod is white and smooth and is made into cacao butter, which can be used in cooking and baking, as well as used as an all-natural moisturizer for your skin. The rest of the fruit is ground up to make cacao powder, which is used most often in the kitchen. Cacao beans can also be extracted from the pods and chopped into small pieces to be used as a replacement for chocolate chips, though the flavor is much more concentrated.
Eight Benefits of Cacao Powder
Is cacao good for you? While it contains more calories than the alternative cocoa powder, cacao powder is also higher in vitamins, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein. Discover some of this natural powder’s top benefits below.
Better Your Mood
Cacao contains anandamide, a molecule known for improving mood and creating a euphoric feeling. It is also one of only two foods naturally found on Earth to contain PEA, or phenethylamine (the other being blue-green algae), a compound that releases endorphins and emulates the feeling of falling in love while functioning as an aphrodisiac. Cacao powder can even help to stabilize mood swings during that time of the month, as it raises the level of serotonin in your brain that hormonal changes can cause to drop.
Be Heart Healthy
Raw cacao contains flavanols, an anti-inflammatory that may aid in the prevention of heart disease while also lowering the risk of stroke and promoting blood circulation. There are more than 700 compounds and complex antioxidants found within cacao that also help lower bad cholesterol and prevent the hardening of arteries, reducing the risk of heart attack. Cacao can even help to thin blood and prevent clots, with studies finding it nearly as effective as taking one aspirin daily.
You read that right, you can enjoy chocolate and actually lose weight! Cacao contains MAO inhibitors, the same appetite suppressants often found in diet pills, but the natural version also encourages more serotonin to be released in the brain. Sipping on hot cacao 10-15 minutes before a meal can shrink your appetite and help you eat less, resulting in weight loss.
Boost Your Energy
The high levels of magnesium found in cacao not only helps prevent osteoperosis, but it can give you a natural energy boost and ward off drowsiness. Just two tablespoons of raw cacao powder contains 14% of your daily magnesium needs. Mix it with hot water for a tasty way to get over the mid-afternoon slump.
Get Stronger, Healthier Nails and Hair
Cacao is a fantastic beauty supplement as it is a fantastic source of sulfur. Sulfur aids in hair and nail growth, while also helping to cleanse your liver and pancreas, letting you look and feel great.
Get Great Skin
The flavanols found in cacao do more than protect your heart; they also help your skin. Studies have shown that adding cacao to your diet can improve skin texture and hydration, as well as lessen the risk of sunburns and even lower the risk of getting skin cancer.
Improve Your Memory
Studies have shown that drinking two cups of cacao a day can improve blood circulation to the brain and help in retaining memory and preventing Alzheimer’s.
Prevent Premature Aging
Cacao also contains polyphenol antioxidants that can help to prevent premature cell destruction and oxidation. This means that the chocolate source can leave you feeling and looking younger for even longer!
Cacao vs. Cocoa: Understanding the Nutritional Differences
We know that cacao is the raw material that is made into cocoa, but how does it happen, and what nutritional benefits are lost or gained along the way? Cacao powder is heated and processed with heat that turns it into cocoa. The most common method of processing is known as “Dutch processing,” in which the cacao is chemically processed and roasted to rid it of its naturally bitter flavors and make it darker and more palatable. Unfortunately, this process can also result in the elimination of approximately 60%-90% of the beneficial antioxidants found within raw cacao.
Cocoa still retains some health benefits after processing, so long as it is pure and not mixed with sugars and oils like in many supermarket brands. The best way to obtain a better understanding of the difference in nutritional facts between cacao and cocoa is to examine their labels.
Raw, organic cacao contains 120 calories in one ounce, while organic, unsweetened cocoa is just 64 calories per ounce. However, cacao only has 23 calories from fat while cocoa has 32 calories from fat. Cacao has 2.5 grams of total fat, with 1.5 grams being saturated. In comparison, cocoa has 4 grams of total fat with 2 grams being saturated. Cacao contains 7 grams of fiber, and cocoa 9 grams. Both contain 5 grams of protein per ounce.
Where the two differ most is in the amount of antioxidants they contain. Raw cacao powder is a source of nearly 300 different compounds that act as antioxidants, giving it 20 times the antioxidant power of blueberries and four times the power of dark chocolate and the cocoa used in it. The following chart from Paleo Wired details more differences and similarities between cacao and cocoa.
How to Use Cacao Powder: Simple Cacao and Cacao Powder Recipes
Now that you know about the health benefits of cacao, you may want to incorporate it into your regular diet. We’ve gathered some easy recipes to help you reap the benefits of this tasty bean.
Traditional Hot Cacao
A classic for cool winter days. Simply add one to two heaping tablespoons of cacao powder to a mug of hot water and stir until the mixture is even. Alternatively, you can add the powder to one cup of warmed milk for a thicker beverage. This also works with plant-based milks like soy, almond, and cashew milk if you’re looking for a healthier or vegan friendly version.
Add a tablespoon of organic cacao powder into a smoothie or top it with cacao nibs for a crunchy, chocolaty garnish. Be Good Organics has a delicious Chocolate Jaffa smoothie recipe that calls for one to two tablespoons of cacao powder to be blended together with an orange, one tablespoon of chocolate protein powder, half a frozen banana, 1/4 cup of cashews, one medjoul date, 1/4 cup of water, and a couple of ice cubes. See the full recipe here!
Raw Afghan Brownies
Try these no-bake brownies for a vegan friendly, organic treat. Combine two cups of walnuts, two cups of medjoul dates, 3/4 cup of raw cacao powder, 1/2 cup raw cacao nibs, 1/4 teaspoon organic sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder in a food processor and then freeze the flattened mixture for at least an hour. Cut into squares before serving. Check out the complete recipe here!
Whip up one of these delicious treats and start enjoying the many benefits or cacao today!
McClees, H., “Cacao vs. Cocoa: What You Need to Know,” One Green Planet web site, November 5, 2016; http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/cacao-vs-cocoa-what-you-need-to-know/, last accessed January 13, 2017
“What is Cacao Good For?,” Food Facts web site, http://foodfacts.mercola.com/cacao.html, last accessed January 13, 2017
Ellen, B., “Cacao: 5 Little Known Benefits of this Amazonian Superfood,” Be Good Organics web site, http://begoodorganics.com/blogs/subscriber-only-recipes/7991527-cacao-5-little-known-benefits-of-this-amazonian-superfood, last accessed January 13, 2017
“Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened,” Nutrition Data web site, http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/sweets/5471/2, last accessed January 13, 2017
“Cacao Nutritional Facts,” The Super Foods web site, http://www.thesuperfoods.net/cacao/cacao-nutritional-facts, last accessed January 13, 2017
“21 Fantastic Benefits of Cacao A Powerful Raw Chocolate Superfood,” Daily Superfood Love web site, http://dailysuperfoodlove.com/2852/21-fantastic-benefits-of-cacao/, last accessed January 13, 2017