Cacao and cocoa powders are two of the most common ingredients used in baking, smoothies, and other chocolatey treats. Though their names are similar, cacao and cocoa powders have some key differences.
Cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans, keeping the living enzymes intact. Cocoa powder comes from roasted cacao beans that are heated at much higher temperatures. This changes the flavor, nutrition, and health benefits.
Understanding how each powder is made, its nutrition profiles, flavors, and best uses will help you determine which is best for your recipes.
How Cacao and Cocoa Powders Are Made
Both cacao and cocoa powders start with cacao pods grown on cacao trees. These trees produce large, football-shaped pods filled with cacao beans surrounded by a naturally sweet white pulp.
Cacao beans are seeds from the cacao pod. To make cacao powder, the cacao beans are harvested, fermented, dried, and cold pressed at low temperatures. The beans are then crushed into nibs and ground into a powder.
Cocoa powder goes through a similar but more intensive process. After harvest, the beans are fermented, dried, and roasted at high temperatures. The nibs are ground into a thick chocolate liquor, and pressed to remove most of the cacao butter. What's left is ground into cocoa powder.
Key Takeaway: Cacao powder comes from raw, cold-pressed cacao beans while cocoa powder is from roasted cacao beans pressed at high heat.
Cacao vs Cocoa Nutrition
Both cacao and cocoa powders provide nutrients, but since cacao undergoes less processing it retains more nutrition.
Here is the nutrition comparison for one tablespoon (5 grams) of cacao powder vs cocoa powder:
Cacao powder has more fiber, protein, iron, and magnesium compared to cocoa powder. It also contains antioxidants like polyphenols which are diminished through roasting.
So while both offer nutrients, cacao is nutritionally superior due to less processing and heat exposure.
Flavor Differences Between Cacao and Cocoa
The processing methods also impact the flavor of cacao and cocoa powders:
- Cacao powder has a deeper chocolate taste that's slightly bitter without any sweetness.
- Cocoa powder has a milder chocolate flavor that is less bitter than cacao powder.
Think of the difference between dark chocolate vs milk chocolate. Cacao powder features those deep, dark chocolate notes while cocoa powder is reminiscent of sweet milk chocolate.
Health Benefits of Cacao vs Cocoa Powders
The nutrients and antioxidants in cacao and cocoa offer some overlapping health benefits, but cacao has unique advantages:
- Cacao is higher in antioxidants and magnesium which support brain function, heart health, and immune defense. The flavanols in cacao also have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging effects.
- Cocoa provides antioxidants, iron, and fiber that support heart health, blood production, and digestion. However, these are diminished during roasting.
So while cocoa powder can provide benefits, cacao powder is superior thanks to its raw form and exceptional nutrient density. Just remember to keep servings in check since both have calories and fat.
Best Uses for Cacao vs Cocoa Powder
With their different nutrition profiles and flavors, cacao and cocoa powders each shine in certain recipes:
- Cacao powder works well in smoothies, raw desserts, homemade healthy hot chocolate, and no-bake energy balls or bites. Its strong flavor stands up well in cold dishes.
- Cocoa powder is best for baking like cakes, brownies, cookies, and hot cocoa. Its milder flavor blends seamlessly into heated desserts.
You can swap cacao for cocoa powder in some recipes, though the results may differ. Try using 25% less cacao powder than the cocoa amount since its flavor is more intense. And add a touch more sweetener to balance the bitterness if needed.
Cost Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa
Cacao powder is more expensive than cocoa powder, by about $1-3 per ounce. This premium price comes from the special labor-intensive processing and lower yields of raw cacao beans.
However, a little cacao powder goes a long way. The strong flavor means you use less than cocoa powder. So while pricier per ounce, the total cost difference in recipes is small.
How to Store Cacao and Cocoa Powder
To retain freshness and nutrients, store both cacao and cocoa powders:
- In airtight containers in a cool, dark place
- Away from light, heat, and moisture
- For up to 1 year for cocoa powder and 6-8 months for cacao powder
The antioxidants in cacao degrade faster from exposure to oxygen, light, and heat. So opt for opaque containers, and use cacao powder more quickly once opened.
Key Differences Between Cacao and Cocoa
To recap, here are the main distinctions between cacao and cocoa powders:
- Cacao comes from cold-pressed raw cacao beans, while cocoa is from roasted cacao beans.
- Cacao has a richer chocolate taste and more bitterness than cocoa's milder flavor.
- Cacao offers more antioxidants, fiber, protein, iron and magnesium compared to cocoa.
- Cacao works well in smoothies and raw treats, while cocoa is ideal for baking.
- Cacao costs more per ounce but you use less compared to cocoa.
Either powder can add chocolate goodness to your treats and drinks. But if you want maximum nutrition and bold flavor, reach for cacao powder.
Key Takeaway: Cacao powder is from raw, cold-pressed beans while cocoa powder comes from roasted beans, giving cacao more nutrition and a bolder chocolate taste.
Is cacao powder alkalized like Dutch process cocoa powder?
No, cacao powder does not undergo the Dutch processing that alkalizes cocoa powder. True cacao powder is raw and unprocessed.
Can cacao powder be used to make chocolate from scratch?
Yes, cacao powder can be combined with cacao butter and sweetener to make homemade chocolate with just a few ingredients.
Does cocoa powder have caffeine like cacao powder?
Yes, both cacao and cocoa powders contain small amounts of caffeine. Cacao has approximately 25 mg caffeine per ounce, while cocoa has 10 mg per ounce.
Is cocoa powder gluten-free and keto-friendly?
Yes, unsweetened cocoa powder is naturally gluten-free and low carb, making it keto-friendly. Just be sure to use plain cocoa powder without any additives.
Which powder has more antioxidants, cacao or cocoa?
Cacao powder has significantly more antioxidants, including polyphenols, catechins, and flavanols. These can be reduced by up to 80% in high heat cocoa processing.
Can cacao powder be substituted for cocoa in baked goods?
You can substitute cacao for cocoa powder in baked goods, though you will need to use about 25% less cacao due to its more potent flavor. Also add a touch more sweetener to balance bitterness.
Does cacao powder go bad or expire?
Cacao powder lasts 6-8 months after opening when stored properly in a cool, dark place. For the longest shelf life, keep cacao powder in the fridge or freezer.
Cacao and cocoa powders have some key differences that impact their taste, nutrition, and best uses. Cacao powder offers bolder chocolate flavor and higher antioxidants thanks to its raw, cold-pressed processing. Cocoa powder has a milder taste that works well in baking.
Both can add chocolate goodness to smoothies, baking, and treats. Look at the recipe and your taste preferences to decide whether nutrient-dense cacao powder or cocoa's sweet flavor is the better fit.