If you are a chocolate lover and enjoy chocolate as much as I do, then this post is for you!
As someone that is constantly reading labels at the grocery store, looking for the most natural and least processed foods, one I have found that can get confusing is the difference between cacao beans and cocoa beans. While the name and spelling are very similar, they are different products.
Cacao and cocoa are both used in chocolate products, but which one is healthier? Which one is the least processed? Which is in its most natural state? We’ll get into all that and more in this post; keep reading!
Key Differences: Cacao Beans vs Cocoa Beans
Cocao beans and cocoa beans both come from the same source, the Theobroma cacao tree. The big difference between cacao beans and cocoa beans is how they are processed after harvesting. Cacao beans are beans in raw form, the most natural state; they are unroasted. Cocoa beans have been roasted at a high temperature.
Cacao is an excellent food choice for anyone on a raw vegan diet and those looking to eat as much minimally processed plant-based food as possible. While both are vegan forms of chocolate, cacao beans are the least processed. Cacao is considered to be the purest form of chocolate.
Cacao Beans vs Cocoa Beans
The Theobroma cacao tree produces large cacao pods that contain cacao seeds, also called cacao beans. The cocoa bean is derived from that same bean but is processed through heating the bean, which alters its flavor and health benefits.
“Cocoa” is the English adaptation of the word “cacao.” Cacao and cocoa actually mean the same thing. However, as the raw vegan diet has become more prevalent in recent years and people are more conscious of the food they’re consuming, using the term “cacao” has been used to distinguish the pure form of the cacao bean, while cocoa is associated with the roasted cocoa bean.
Raw cacao beans are often ground down and sold as “raw cacao powder” or “raw cacao nibs.” Raw cacao is minimally processed and raw vegan. The cacao bean maintains the cacao seed’s nutritional properties and health benefits.
On the other hand, cocoa is typically highly processed. It is roasted at high temperatures and then often supplemented with additives and added sugars to help neutralize the bitter taste. Cocoa powder, cocoa butter, or cocoa liquor is the main ingredient you’ll find in chocolate, chocolate bars, and other chocolate sweets made from.
Taste Profile of Cacao Beans vs Cocoa Beans
Although cacao beans and cocoa beans are derived from the same source, the processing cocoa goes through will alter its taste.
Both cacao and cocoa taste like chocolate. However, cacao is much less sweet with a slightly bitter taste. Some people say raw cacao has a taste more like unsweetened dark chocolate.
Cocoa is typically used for sweeter baked items, milk chocolate, and hot chocolate.
If you are looking for a healthier version for your sweets, you can opt for cacao instead. You can help offset the bitter taste with a natural sweetener such as maple syrup, honey, or dates mixed with cacao powder. I make a cacao “hot chocolate” by adding cacao with maple syrup and non-dairy milk to sweeten it naturally.
Cacao nibs, which have a crunchy texture like coffee beans, make a great addition to top off fruit smoothies or bowls. The sweetness of fruit also helps balance the bitter taste of the cacao.
One thing to note, though, when baking and using cacao products such as cacao nibs, is that they will not melt as chocolate chips will.
What are Cacao Beans?
Cacao beans are minimally processed at low temperatures to help maintain raw cacao’s natural, pure qualities. Cacao is popular in the vegan, raw vegan, and clean eating communities. It allows people to enjoy the health benefits of chocolate in its most natural state, along with no additive, added sugar, and processing.
Cacao products such as raw cacao powder, cacao nibs, and cacao butter are made by processing cacao beans at a low temperature. These products can be a healthier substitute for cocoa products that have been processed at higher temperatures and are often filled with additives and sugars.
What are Cocoa Beans?
When the beans from the Theobroma cacao tree are dried, fermented, and roasted at high heat, they produce what we commonly know as cocoa powder. During this process, the fats from the cacao beans are separated, making cocoa butter and cocoa powder. The dry solid left behind is made into cocoa powder. Cocoa butter can be used to make chocolate bars as it has a thicker, more velvety texture.
Studies have shown raw cacao and dark chocolate to have incredible potential health benefits. The benefits of cacao have made it a superfood! The properties of the cacao bean are what give dark chocolate its health benefits. Cacao contains an exceptional amount of antioxidants, flavanols, and flavonoids.
Antioxidants help protect against damage from free radicals. The flavanols help improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.
Cacao is also a great source of fiber, iron, magnesium, and calcium. Cacao is the best way to fill your chocolate cravings without any guilt!
As with other processed foods, much of the nutritional benefits can be lost when cacao is processed and heated at high temperatures. Along with processing and a loss of nutrients, cocoa contains additional additives and sugar. Making is higher in calories, with less nutrition.
Raw cacao products with no added sugar are the purest forms of chocolate and are higher in antioxidants and vitamins than the other highly processed products. Raw cacao can be used to substitute for cocoa in many of your favorite recipes as a stand-alone or by adding in a natural sweetener for sweeter flavoring, more like cocoa.
Raw cacao and dark chocolate have incredible health benefits and can be eaten guilt-free, so grab your favorite cacao or dark chocolate bar and enjoy!
Cacao can typically be found in health food stores or the baking aisle of the grocery store.
Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach, with a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to overcome emotional eating, curb cravings, and overcome resistance to eating new healthy foods. You can learn more about coaching with her here.