Cocoa, Cacao, What's the difference?

We’ve all had chocolate in various forms- chocolate bars, hot cocoa, cakes, mousse, ganache, ice creams and other delicious ways. All variants of chocolate start from the same source- the cacao plant. The difference lies in the way it’s processed. But before we delve into it, here’s a brief history of this glorious plant.

Cacao plant was developed as a crop in many ancient South American cultures with the Mayans and Aztecs being the most well known of these civilizations. The word chocolate stems from two words from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the native groups: Chocolatl, which translates to hot water and cacahuatl, which refers to the bitter beverage made with cacao for religious ceremonies. The cacao bean was so significant for these cultures that it was used as a currency, rewarded to warriors post-war and was part of religious ceremonies. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived and began looting and destroying these cultures, they discovered the value of the local cacao crop. They improvised the bitter drink by adding sugar and spices. The Spanish kept the cacao plant a secret for nearly a hundred years till they could not do it anymore and it spread to Western Europe. It was a drink of royalty for many years where it was celebrated for its health benefits and as an aphrodisiac. With the advent of Industrial revolution, the steam-powered machines made the production of cocoa powder significantly quicker and more affordable and that is how it became popular worldwide.

My quest to find the best cocoa powder for my products led me to Cacao powder and that’s where I fell into the rabbit hole of cacao bean processing and what I learned was quite fascinating. So it turns out that cocoa powder and cacao powder are processed differently. When the cocoa beans are dried, fermented and roasted at high temperatures and then ground to a powder, the resulting product is ‘cocoa powder’. Any usage of the term ‘cocoa’ signifies that the bean has gone through this high heat process. At this point, the cocoa butter has separated from dry solids and these solids are what is ground to a powder. Unfortunately, the high heat of approximately 150C and the added solvents destroy the antioxidants, heat sensitive vitamins and minerals. High heat processing also results in removal of the bitter compounds in cacao beans that results in a relatively sweeter powder when compared to cacao powder. This is the powder that is used for baking.

The term ‘Cacao’ can refer to the plant or to the bean. When the beans are processed at lower temperatures, it results in cacao powder, cacao butter and cacao nibs. The powder has a higher percentage of cacao butter that gives it a luscious texture.  Cacao powder can be had raw and is a richer source of antioxidants, flavanols, and minerals like Magnesium, Iron, Chromium, Zinc, and copper.  The flavanols in cacao have a blood pressure lowering effect. Our products are made with the finest, locally available cacao. So you see they are not only good for you, but damn tasty too!