Cacao versus cocoa? Is there any difference really? Or, is it just two ways of saying the same thing? I bet all of us who’ve gone through the ingredients listed on our favourite chocolate bars, have scratched their heads for a while before dismissing the question altogether. Fortunately, I have the answer, and it is tied to the nutritional value of what you’re consuming and how it impacts your health.
If what I just said makes you wonder why you didn’t find out earlier, it’s not too late. In this blog post, I uncover the fascinating differences between Cacao and Cocoa, and what is good to eat!
Where does the difference lie?
The Theobroma Cacao tree is the source of all things chocolate, and that includes Cacao as well Cocoa. The fruits on the tree, or the seed pods, contain the cacao beans. Raw beans taste bitter, and (in the very least) are fermented and dried before being available to chocolate makers.
In this minimally-processed state, the beans are called Cacao. Cacao may even be lightly roasted, but when beans are processed further and roasted on high-heat they begin to be called Cocoa. The distinction may be thin, but there is a major loss of nutritional value when beans are roasted at high temperatures.
Here are the process steps in brief:
- Fermentation: Beans are allowed to ferment for a few days in cool dark storage facilities inside covered bins. This process allows heightening the chocolatey flavour, texture and aroma.
- Drying: The fermented beans are then dried for a few days. Then they are sorted to be processed further or to be used as such in foods.
- Roasting: The fermented and dried beans may then be roasted. Heat separates the fatty part of the bean from the rest. This process enhances the flavour further and gives the beans slight sweetness.
- Crushing and Grinding: The roasted beans are crushed, ground and turned into a fine liquorous
So, is Cacao better?
Purely based on how close Cacao is to the raw state (minimally-processed state) you may say that Cacao is indeed better than Cocoa. Healthwise, it is bursting with antioxidants, essential trace minerals, and flavonoids. It is low GI food that helps you control and regulate your blood sugar. And it even boosts and enhances your brain’s cognitive function. Cacao beans are abundant in minerals such as – magnesium, selenium, chromium, potassium, calcium, iron, copper, zinc and manganese. In fact, they are the richest natural source of magnesium around.
Cocoa has different health benefits to Cacao, and not all goodness is lost in the high-heat roasting process (depending on processing technique). For example, good quality Cocoa will have quite a few minerals and a decent level of antioxidants. While purchasing Cocoa, consider the organic variety. When used in cooking, Cocoa may be a more suitable ingredient as it is sweeter and requires fewer tweaks to meet your taste.
Use Cacao nibs instead of chocolate chips and Cacao powder instead of chocolate powder. Although, you should know that Cacao can be more expensive than Cocoa, and not as widely available too. This means that if the options are slim good quality organic Cocoa can be a handy substitute. It is definitely better than store-bought chocolate!
From nibs, chips, butter, powder, to chocolate bars, Cacao/Cocoa is available in many delectable forms. Generally, the darker the chocolate is, the higher the Cacao content is, making it healthier and more nutritious. Sometimes manufacturers and marketers use the terms loosely and it is better to be aware while making a choice. At other times, quality and where the ingredients are sourced from may dictate why you would pick one product over the other.
Why must you consider the dairy-free options?
Dairy may be the single most critical issue with the Cacao or Cocoa you’ve been consuming! Dairy in chocolate effects the way nutrients are absorbed by the body. It may be potent enough to block the consumption of essential phytonutrients and flavonoids.
Store-bought chocolate products may also contain powdered milk as a ‘filler’, and you must read the labels carefully and diligently before picking the right product. Pick dairy-free chocolate! It may be more expensive than the other options, but it is definitely the healthier option to consider.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? It is hard to resist its temptation. But remember, chocolate works best as an occasional indulgence! And if you choose wisely between Cacao, Cocoa and chocolate, weighing the pros and cons, and most importantly balancing your choices wisely, it can be a healthy indulgence you can savour!