Cocoa vs Cacao – Difference Between Cacao and Cacao

You’ve probably seen the words “cocoa” and “cocoa” on candy bars and baking ingredients like cocoa powder, chocolate chips, etc. Many people assume that the two words mean the same thing. Of course, cacao and cacao are related to chocolate, and they both come from the same place (more on that below). And they sure do his similar! But really, a discussion of cacao versus cacao is about much more than a difference in vowels.

So what sets these two apart? And when should you choose one ingredient over another?

Before we dive into the differences between these two products, let’s start with the similarities: cocoa and cocoa have the same origin: the seeds of a cocoa pod or cocoa beans. Once the pod has been harvested, the seeds are separated from the fatty part called cocoa butter (yes, that’s what makes the delicious velvety texture of chocolate!). They are then dried, fermented and shipped to manufacturers for further processing. This is the step that differentiates cacao from cacao.

What is cocoa?

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The most popular form of cocoa is cocoa powder. You’ll find it in hot chocolate mixes and some of our favorite desserts, like Ree Drummond’s Dark Chocolate Brownies (yum!). but what is it exactly? Well, after fermentation, the cocoa beans are roasted at a high temperature, then ground into a fine powder and sifted, so they are ready to be packaged and sold in the bakery aisle. The high temperature processing involved here strips the beans of most of their nutrients and reduces the beans’ natural acidity. Most cocoa powders used in baking are unsweetened, but you can also find cocoa powders with varying levels of dairy, sweeteners, and other additives.

What is cocoa?

chocolate oatmeal with banana in a white bowl for breakfast, horizontal


Cocoa involves much less heat and processing than cocoa. Fermented cocoa beans are roasted at low temperatures, if at all, depending on the brand of cocoa products. Due to minimal processing, cocoa retains its nutrients and antioxidants, which is why it is generally considered a “superfood”! Plus, it contains little to no additives, making it popular in vegan diets (it’s used to make vegan chocolates). You can find the two most popular forms of cocoa – cocoa nibs and cocoa powder – at health food stores and some grocery stores. Cocoa powder is great mixed into smoothies or oatmeal, and cocoa nibs can add a welcome crunch to healthy baked goods. Note: the feathers are do not melt in the oven.

Is cocoa better than cocoa?

“Better” is a loaded word. Cocoa is generally considered a “raw” food, so it contains more nutrients and is less processed than cocoa. However, cocoa products are considerably more expensive and have a more intense, sometimes bitter flavor that may not be for everyone. Also, baking with cocoa won’t necessarily result in a healthier treat: baking is similar to processing, in that it subjects the cocoa to high heat and destroys some of the nutrients. If you’re looking to reap all the health benefits of cocoa, it’s best to consume it raw.

Can cocoa be replaced by cocoa?

You can certainly use cocoa powder in your baked goods, but you might want to consider that it costs exponentially more. Also, since cocoa powder is less processed than cocoa powder, it is much more bitter. It is also important to note that cocoa powder is acidic; most unsweetened cocoa powders in the supermarket are also naturally acidic, but Dutch cocoa powder is not, so it won’t react with baking soda – keep that in mind if you’re swapping. Finally, know that cocoa powder contains more starch than cocoa powder, which makes it more absorbent, so you can use a little more liquid to prevent your cake or brownies from drying out.

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