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What is the difference between cocoa and cacao?

By GMB Nutritionist Melissa Fine

The difference between cocoa and cacao is a little more than an “I say toma-toes, you say tomat-oes,” kinda thing. In a (cocoa) nutshell, the difference between cocoa and cacao is this

Cacao powder is raw and comes from the seed of Theobroma cacao, the cacao tree. The unroasted cacao beans are cold-pressed to produce cacao powder.

Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is pressed from the roasted cacao seed, and so has been heat-treated.

Apart from the way in which they’re made though, are there any differences between cacao and cocoa? Let’s take a look.


Both cacao and cocoa provide a bitter flavour - one that we love in the form of dark chocolate - like Bennetto’s Mint & Cocoa Nib Bar - where the bitterness is balanced with the help of other ingredients such as smooth ground Madagascar vanilla beans and pure mint oil…that’s melt-in-your-mouth goodness right there!

Nutritional Value

Substantial research on the difference between cacao and cocoa’s nutritional value is lacking. It is possible that due to being processed under heat, cocoa has a slightly less rich nutritional profile as cacao - although that’s not to say cocoa is void of nutritional value - especially if you consume it in straight-up powder form (in a smoothie that is, not off the spoon!), or in a dark chocolate with a high cocoa percentage.

Cacao and cocoa are rich in flavonoids – beneficial compounds naturally inherent to certain plants, the cacao bean included. In addition to containing health-promoting antioxidants (compounds that fight undesirable free radicals in the body and environment), flavonoids have the potential to lower blood pressure and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.

Another reason we love both cacao and cocoa: the seed in which they come from, the Theobroma cacao seed, is rich in ‘theobromine’ - an all-natural compound with mood-boosting potential. Theobromine also works as a central nervous system stimulant - unlike the caffeine in coffee, this is a central nervous stimulant that provides calm and clarity as opposed to jitters.

The cacao and cocoa bean – particularly in the form of crunchy nibs (not super sweetened milk choc chips!) also provide a noteworthy dose of fibre to help keep you regular and promote good gut bacteria… makes sense seeing that cacao and cocoa come from a plant. Try adding a handful of unsweetened cacao nibs to a homemade trail mix to up its fibre content without all the sticky, sugar-concentrated dried fruit!

Sugar Content

Both pure cacao and cocoa are sugar free. If you’re asking, “but doesn’t chocolate contain sugar?”, yes, it typically does. That’s why when you’re choosing a choccie bar - whether it’s one made with cacao or cocoa - darker varieties are the way to go if you want to avoid a sky-high sugar content.

The more cacao or cocoa in your choccie bar the better…we’ll eat chocolate (only the best kind) to that!

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