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Cacao vs. Cocoa: What You Need to Know


When it comes to chocolate, there’s never just one or two choices to satisfy your cravings. There’s not only numerous brands of chocolate out there, but also many different forms.

For instance: cacao vs. cocoa – is there a difference and which one is best?

Cacao and cocoa may sound similar, but both of them are unique when it comes to taste, nutrition, and cost.  If you’re unsure if you should buy cacao or cocoa, check out these differences below so you can make a well informed, choco-licious decision!


  • Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can consume, which means it is raw and much less processed than cocoa powder or chocolate bars. Cacao is thought to be the highest source of antioxidants of all foods and the highest source of magnesium of all foods. It has been used throughout many cultures for years for health purposes and even used as a high trade commodity.
  • The cacao fruit tree, also known as Theobroma Cacao, produces cacao pods which are cracked open to release cacao beans. From there, cacao beans can be processed a few different ways.
  • Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. It is white in color and has a rich, buttery texture that resembles white chocolate in taste and appearance.
  • Cacao butter is removed from the bean during production and the remaining part of the fruit is used to produce raw cacao powder.
  • Cacao nibs are simply cacao beans that have been chopped up into edible pieces, much like chocolate chips without the added sugars and fats. Cacao nibs contain all of the fiber, fat, and nutrients that the cacao bean does.
  • Cacao paste comes from cacao nibs that have been slowly heated to preserve the nutrients and are melted into a bark known that is a less-processed form of dark chocolate bars. Cacao paste can be used to make raw vegan desserts or you can just eat it as an indulgent snack by itself!
  • Cacao powder contains more fiber and calories than cocoa powder since more of the nutrients from the whole bean are still intact. Cacao is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, cholesterol-free saturated fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, natural carbohydrates, and protein that make it an excellent source of nutrients.


  • Cocoa is the term used to refer to the heated form of cacao that you probably grew up buying at the store in the form of cocoa powder.
  • Though cocoa may seem inferior to raw cacao, it’s actually very good for you (and less expensive) if you choose a variety without added sugars and milk fats or oils.
  • Cocoa powder is produced similarly to cacao except cocoa undergoes a higher temperature of heat during processing. Surprisingly, it still retains a large amount of antioxidants in the process and is still excellent for your heart, skin, blood pressure, and even your stress levels.
  • If you buy cocoa powder, be sure you buy plain cocoa powder, not cocoa mixes which often contain sugar. Look for either regular cocoa powder or Dutch-processed (a.k.a. dark) cocoa powder.
  • Dutch-processed cocoa powder (dark cocoa) is cocoa powder that has been processed with an alkalized solution, making it less acidic and much richer in taste. Regular cocoa powder retains a more acidic nature and bitter taste, and is used in baking recipes with baking soda where Dutch-processed cocoa powder is not since it has already been alkalized.
  • Cocoa powder is a rich source of fiber, has little fat, and has a bit of protein in it as well.

You can use cocoa powder and cacao powder interchangeably in baking recipes, smoothies, oatmeal, cookies, homemade raw treats, or even stir them into your coffee for a homemade mocha.  Both cacao and cocoa are highly nutritious for you and are sure to satisfy your chocolate cravings around the clock. If you want more nutrients, I would suggest you choose cacao, but if you want less calories and and decent source of antioxidants,  then definitely go with cocoa powder.

Need cacao and cocoa recipes? We’ve got you covered with plenty of recipes to choose from to satisfy your chocolate cravings!

Which one do you prefer — cacao or cocoa?

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Lead image source: Raw Cacao Sea Salt Caramel Cups

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2 comments on “Cacao vs. Cocoa: What You Need to Know”

Click to add comment
Destini Ingoldsby
10 Days ago

Hi Heather,
I like your blog - has a nice healthy vibe to it! Just finished reading your post about cacao vs cocoa. I never knew there was a difference until I was doing research for my blog post about DIY chocolate massages- which you can see if here, if you like: http://destiniingoldsby.com/diy-valentines-day-chocolate-massage-for-you-and-your-spouse/

2 Months Ago

Is this true? Really strange article and can this be confirmed? I think this is a \'bullsxxit\' :)

2 Months Ago

This was so helpful. Thank you!

2 Months Ago

We reverend this article in our recipe for a healthy version of hot cocoa. Enjoy! https://www.fitlandiafitness.com/recipe/healthy-hot-cocoa/

Natasha Māyā
3 Months Ago

Sherrie Steyn now we know!

Sherrie Steyn
07 Nov 2016


Sherrie Steyn
07 Nov 2016


Milly Street
3 Months Ago

Linda Street

Milly Street
3 Months Ago

Linda Street

Joyce Ward
3 Months Ago

I like cacao AND cocoa

Penny Maus
3 Months Ago

Lucy Contreras: mystery solved

Maća Winchester
3 Months Ago

This is interesting but strange. I grew up bilingual, and neither Croatian nor German have two different words for cacao (in both languages it's 'kakao'). I always thought that the English word 'cocoa' means 'cacao' and that there is no difference between the two. I can' t even see much difference between them that there should be a need for two words. Confusing ...

Eva Matjašič
06 Nov 2016

ha, similar in slovenian :)))

Joseph Andrews
07 Nov 2016

I used to have cacao everyday but I've read a lot of negative stuff about it. No animal in nature will eat it unless tricked into it with milk or sugar. If you can convince an animal to eat it then it greatly shortens their life span if it doesn’t kill them immediately. The native people who ate it only ate the fruit of the theobroma (which contains all the benefits and none of the detriments) and only used the cacao seed as an addition to their psychedelic brew ahyuwasca and as a medicine in emergencies. Native people did not eat it as a food nor as a supplement, only for sacred use. Cacao is one of the most addictive substances known Cacao is super toxic to the liver It acts as a stimulant and agitates the kidneys and adrenal glands. This can cause: insomnia, nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night, shakes, and extreme energy shifts It is extremely clogging due to the toxins carried in the oils contained within. Plus the fat chains are highly complex and require tons of work to break down. The result of long term use is a high level of liver and blood toxicity which can cause extreme mood swings, angry outbursts, violence, depression, paranoia, & dizziness. In some cases of long term use, there are also psychological effects that range from addictive tendencies, sexual dysfunction, violent outbursts, lack of reasoning, and decreased will. At mega does of 40 plus beans, it acts as a hallucinogen and can cause many effects attributed to LSD or Hashish

Anita Hok
07 Nov 2016

Same in Hungarian. Only the word kakaó is exists.

02 Feb 2017

The same happens in Portuguese: one word - cacau - meaning the fruit. If you buy it dry and processed you just call it "cacao powder" ( cacau em pó ).

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