Cacao powder and cacao butter - two superfoods that have been gaining popularity in recent years. But what exactly are they, and how do they differ from each other?
Cacao powder is made by cold pressing unroasted cacao beans and then grinding them into a fine powder. Cacao butter, on the other hand, is the natural fat that is extracted from cacao beans during the production process.
While both derived from the cacao plant, cacao powder and cacao butter have distinct nutritional profiles, textures, flavors, and uses.
Origins of Cacao Powder and Cacao Butter
Cacao powder and cacao butter both originate from the beans of the Theobroma cacao tree, native to the tropical regions of Central and South America.
The Theobroma cacao tree produces pod-like fruits which contain the cacao beans. These beans are encapsulated in a sweet, sticky pulp and can be eaten raw straight from the pod, although their bitterness makes them unpleasant to eat in their raw form.
Key Takeaway: Both cacao powder and cacao butter come from the cacao plant, which produces pod-like fruits containing the raw cacao beans.
How is Cacao Powder Made?
To make cacao powder, the cacao beans are first harvested from the pods and usually undergo fermentation. The fermentation process helps reduce bitterness and enriches the flavor.
Next, the beans are dried and cold pressed. Cold pressing simply uses pressure to squeeze the beans and extract the fat without the use of heat.
Finally, the pressed cacao cakes are ground into a fine powder to produce raw cacao powder.
Cacao powder is never roasted or exposed to high heat, which helps preserve its nutrients, enzymes, and antioxidants. It has a milder chocolate flavor compared to cocoa powder.
How is Cacao Butter Made?
Cacao butter goes through a similar initial process as cacao powder. The cacao beans are harvested, fermented, and dried.
Then comes the pressing stage, where the beans are crushed into nibs and ground into chocolate liquor. This liquor contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter in equal proportion.
Powerful hydraulic presses are then used to separate the fatty portion (the cacao butter) from the non-fatty portion.
Just like cacao powder, cacao butter is never exposed to high temperatures. It retains its pale yellow color and has a mild chocolate scent and flavor.
Key Differences Between Cacao Powder and Cacao Butter
|Made by cold pressing cacao beans into a powder
|The natural fat extracted from cacao beans
|Rich chocolate flavor
|Subtle chocolate aroma
|Dry, powdery texture
|Smooth, creamy texture
|Higher in antioxidants, fiber, minerals
|Almost all fat, very little antioxidants
|Added to smoothies, desserts
|Used in skin care or to make chocolate
Key Takeaway: While both from cacao beans, cacao powder is a dry powder high in nutrients, and cacao butter is the fatty portion with skin-nourishing properties.
Cacao Powder Nutrition
Cacao powder delivers a major nutritional punch and is considered a superfood. Here are some of the top nutrients found in cacao powder:
- Antioxidants - Extremely high in antioxidants like flavonoids, catechins, and procyanidins that can help fight free radical damage. In fact, cacao is one of the highest antioxidant foods on the planet.
- Fiber - A good source of dietary fiber, with about 9 grams per 100 grams of cacao powder. Fiber supports digestion and heart health.
- Iron - Provides substantial iron, with over 20% of your RDI in just 2 tablespoons. Iron carries oxygen throughout the body and supports energy levels.
- Magnesium - An excellent source of magnesium, which aids muscle and nerve function. Cacao is one of the richest food sources of magnesium.
- Theobromine - Contains theobromine, which can boost mood and energy levels due to its mild stimulant effects.
Cacao powder also contains B vitamins, manganese, zinc, copper, and some calcium. The high flavonoid content provides cacao powder’s numerous health benefits, from supporting heart and brain health to improving blood flow and even reducing inflammation.
Cacao Butter Nutrition
In contrast to cacao powder, cacao butter is almost entirely made up of fat. Here is the nutritional breakdown of cacao butter:
- Over 50% saturated fat
- 25% oleic acid (omega-9 monounsaturated fat)
- Provitamin A and vitamin K
- Very small amounts of magnesium, calcium, and iron
Since nearly all the cocoa solids are removed, cacao butter does not contain the antioxidants, fiber, and protein found in cacao powder. However, the fatty acids in cacao butter may still impart some health benefits when consumed in moderation.
Oleic acid has been linked to lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol, while the saturated fats like stearic and palmitic acid are thought to have a neutral effect on cholesterol levels.
Cacao butter provides fatty acids, but does not offer the same powerful nutrition as cacao powder.
Cacao Powder Health Benefits
Thanks to its rich nutritional profile, cacao powder has been associated with some major health perks. Here are just a few of the top researched benefits of cacao powder:
- Heart health - The flavanols have been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and boost circulation.
- Brain function - Better blood flow also benefits the brain and the high antioxidant content may offer neuroprotection. Studies link cacao to improved focus, memory, and mental processing.
- Mood - Compounds like theobromine and amino acids in cacao may boost levels of “happy” neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin.
- Diabetes - The polyphenols and fiber in cacao powder can help regulate blood sugar levels.
- Skin health - Contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that may protect against sun damage.
- Immunity - The high concentration of antioxidants can help strengthen the immune system.
Cacao powder certainly tops the list as one of the world’s healthiest foods. Consuming it regularly can provide some awesome benefits beyond just satisfying your chocolate cravings.
Cacao Butter Health Benefits
Although not as nutrient-dense as cacao powder, cacao butter still offers some health benefits:
- Heart health - The oleic acid may help lower LDL cholesterol to support cardiovascular health.
- Skin care - Has emollient properties to deeply moisturize and soften skin. The healthy fats help nourish the skin.
- Anti-aging - Contains compounds like antioxidants and vitamin E that may combat skin aging and damage.
- Stretch marks - Frequently used to help prevent stretch marks during pregnancy due to its moisturizing effects.
- Wound healing - Can provide a protective barrier for burns, cuts, rashes, etc. Has anti-inflammatory properties to speed healing.
So while cacao butter does not boast the wide-ranging perks of cacao powder, it can still be a healthy addition to your diet and skincare routine when used moderately.
Cacao Powder vs Butter: Flavor and Texture
Cacao powder and cacao butter have very distinct textures and flavors:
Cacao powder - Dry, grainy powder with a strong chocolate taste. The flavor can range from mildly bitter to very rich chocolate depending on the cacao variety and blend.
Cacao butter - Creamy, smooth butter with a faint chocolaty aroma and mild cocoa flavor. Does not provide an intense chocolate taste.
Cacao powder offers a much more indulgent chocolate experience compared to the subtle cocoa scent of cacao butter. However, cacao butter provides lush texture and richness without overwhelming other ingredients.
How to Use Cacao Powder
Thanks to its bold chocolate flavor, cacao powder is easy to incorporate into a variety of recipes:
- Add to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt
- Use in place of cocoa powder in baked goods like brownies, cookies, cakes
- Make homemade chocolate with cacao powder, cacao butter, and natural sweetener
- Blend into coffee drinks instead of cocoa for an antioxidant and energy boost
- Fold into chocolate frosting, ice cream, milkshakes
- Sprinkle on fruit, pancakes, popcorn for chocolate flair
Cacao powder is also wonderful blended into energy balls, granola bars, puddings, and many other treats. Get creative with cacao recipes to reap its nutritional perks!
How to Use Cacao Butter
Cacao butter can be used in a couple different ways:
- Add to smoothies or coffee for extra richness
- Substitute for a portion of oil or butter in baked goods and other recipes
- Make chocolate by combining cacao butter with cacao powder and sweetener
- Add to oatmeal, chia pudding, yogurt, etc.
- Use as a moisturizer, lip balm, hair mask, or massage butter
- DIY body butters, soaps, scrubs, and lotions with cacao butter
- Apply to help prevent stretch marks and heal rashes or skin irritations
When cooking with cacao butter, it must be melted first since it is solid at room temperature. Then it can be measured and added like any other oil. Cacao butter pairs perfectly with cacao powder to make homemade chocolate treats.
Cacao Powder vs Butter: Which Should You Choose?
So should you choose cacao powder or cacao butter? Here are some quick pros and cons of each to consider:
- Rich in antioxidants and nutrients
- Strong chocolate flavor
- Linked to major health benefits
- Easy to add to foods and drinks
- Bitter taste might need getting used to
- Contains caffeine
- Nourishing for skin and hair
- Subtle cocoa taste won't overwhelm
- Neutral effect on cholesterol
- Helps make chocolate and baked goods creamier
- Very high in saturated fat
- No major health benefits
Ultimately, cacao powder reigns supreme when it comes to nutrition. It truly is one of the world's healthiest foods.
But cacao butter can still be a great item to keep in your pantry. Use it moderately to add lushness to foods and nourish your skin.
Why not get the benefits of both by using cacao powder in your morning smoothie, then applying cacao butter lotion after your shower? Both are delightful ways to work more cacao into your routine.
Is cacao powder the same as cocoa powder?
Cacao powder and cocoa powder come from the same cacao beans, but cacao powder undergoes less processing and heat. Cocoa powder is made from roasted cacao beans, which reduces some of the antioxidant content and nutrition.
Does cacao powder have caffeine?
Yes, cacao powder contains small amounts of caffeine naturally. Cacao beans contain the stimulants theobromine and caffeine. An ounce of cacao powder has approximately 12-25mg caffeine.
Is cacao butter healthy?
While not as nutritious as cacao powder, cacao butter provides anti-inflammatory fatty acids that can support skin health and potentially heart health when consumed in moderation. But it is high in saturated fat.
Is cacao butter vegan?
Yes, cacao butter is completely vegan and dairy-free. It is the edible vegetable fat that comes from pressing cacao beans. There are no animal products in cacao butter.
What’s the difference between cacao butter and cocoa butter?
Cacao butter and cocoa butter are the same thing. Both refer to the natural fat content extracted from cacao beans. Cacao butter is generally less processed than cocoa butter, but the names are used interchangeably.
Cacao powder and cacao butter originate from the same beloved bean but are very different end products.
Cacao powder delivers powerful nutrition thanks to all its antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. It can provide awesome health benefits while satisfying chocolate cravings.
Cacao butter offers creamy richness and skin-nourishing properties from its fatty acid content. It makes a beneficial addition to the diet and skincare routine in moderation.