When we think about chocolate, we usually think about those little wrapped squares of chocolate lined up neatly at the checkout of a store, a bunny-shaped surprise on Easter morning, or the lovely box of chocolates you sometimes receive on Valentines Day. But did you know that chocolate used to primarily be consumed as a beverage and dates back as early as 1900 BC in what is now known as Mexico? That’s right, the Mesoamericans roasted and ground the beans,  mixed it with spices, and drank the chocolate. While this method is still around today (yum, hot chocolate) nowadays we are offered many different forms of enjoying this sweet delicacy.

Three of the most popular chocolate types are cacao, carob, and cocoa. So what exactly is the difference between these three and how should you use them? Let’s take a look at the health benefits each one of these bring to the table, what they taste like, and how you can incorporate them into your cooking.

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What Are the Health Benefits?

Cocoa Date Fudge Bites 2

Cacao 

Let’s look at cacao first and why it is an excellent choice for you.  Raw, unroasted cacoa beans are naturally loaded with flavonoids, an antioxidant that promotes good health and may lower your risk factor for the development of blood clots, hardening of the arteries, and can help lower your risk of heart disease.  On top of that, this little bean is loaded with protein, fiber, iron, and a powerful amount of magnesium.  You may be wondering why magnesium is so important.  Have you ever woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating leg cramps? Lack of magnesium could very well be behind those muscle and joint pains. From experience doing 5Ks, I can tell you how important it is to get that magnesium.  Lack of magnesium intensifies sugar cravings (trust me, I know from experience).  So instead of grabbing a sugar quick fix that will spike your insulin and then drop back, carry some cacao and add it to your smoothie, dairy-free milks, or a dairy-free yogurt, and you will not have those crazy sugar spikes. Back away from those donuts! A great benefit to avoiding the sugar cravings is you won’t get the additional fat and calories and this will help avoid that weight gain. Pretty darn amazing, these little raw cacao beans!

Carob

Now, on to carob. Why is this chocolate another healthy alternative to choosing off the shelf chocolate? Well, carob in its natural state are long pod like legumes  Normally when you see this, you see the carob in powder form, or more popular, nibs that look a bit like chocolate chips.  I will let you in on a little secret, I am addicted to carob and have been since the 70s.  Ok, so carob, aside from the fact that it is delicious, it is rich in Vitamins A and B,  iron, protein, potassium, and a great source of calcium without any dairy needed. Carob contains polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants that protect your body against free radicals and environmental toxins.  Carob also provides between 30-36 percent of your daily allowance of calcium, a nutrient essential for proper blood clotting and maintaining a healthy heart.  A healthy heart will allow you to properly exercise and be a healthier and more beautiful person inside and out.

Cocoa

And last, but not least is cocoa.  We’re not referring to the cocoa mix you see in the grocery store and combine with milk.  We’re talking about organic unsweetened cocoa powder.  Cocoa powder is the heated version of cacao powder.  Even though it undergoes a higher temperature, it still retains many of the antioxidants that cacao powder provides.  A tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder  provides your body with 3-9 percent of the recommended daily intake of iron, manganese, magnesium and zinc.  Pretty cool. Similarly to cacao, cocoa also has an impressive amount of flavonoids.

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What Do They Taste Like? 

Raw Peanut Butter and Carob Fudge

You might be wondering if cacao, carob, and cocoa taste the same.  Carob has a slightly milder and sweeter taste than cacao, however, it lacks the chocolatey taste that cacao provides.  For using in recipes, if you are looking for that rich chocolatey taste, use cacao, and save the carob as an addition to smoothies or add it to your oatmeal.

The two that are mostly interchangeable in baked or unbaked recipes are the cacao and cocoa powders. You can use them on a one-to-one ratio when planning your desserts. These Cacao Chocolate Caramel Cups  and Raw Chocolate Energy Bites, for example, give you the choice of cacao or cocoa. However, there are plenty of other ways to use cocoa, carob, and cacao, then simply interchanging them. 

Chocolatey Treats You Can Make 

Matcha Bars With Cacao Nibs

Now, how about some yummy recipes?!  You will find that cacao, cocoa, and carob can, for the most part, interchangeable. That means you do not necessarily have to have all three of these items in your pantry at all times (unless you want to, that is!)! For me, I tend to stick with carob. However, most people grew up with the unsweetened dark cocoa which was used to make hot chocolate from scratch, so if that’s what you have, it’s perfectly okay. Speaking of cocoa, check out this recipe Hot Chocolate Nutella French Toast which uses dark cocoa throughout.

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If you’re looking for something a little less chocolatey, I find that studding my muffins with carob nibs adds the perfectly subtle nutty flavor. Alternatively, you can get yourself some carob powder and make these Fig and Carob Muffins. If you’re okay with eating your carob in dessert form, try these delicious Raw Truffles with Chia, Carob and Coconut or this Raw Peanut Butter and Carob Fudge. If you’re set on using cacao, check out this list of recipes using the superfood.

Whichever chocolate you end up choosing, there are tons of fabulous recipes for to try! And remember, a day without dessert is like a day without sunshine!

Lead image source: Billion Photos/Shutterstock