How to Use Cacao Powder in Recipes and Drinks

Cacao powder is made from cacao beans, which are the seeds from the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. Unlike processed cocoa powder, cacao powder is less processed and retains more of the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals from the raw cacao bean.

How to Use Cacao Powder in Recipes and Drinks

With its rich, chocolatey flavor, cacao powder can be used to make delicious and healthier chocolate treats.

Cacao Powder

Cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans to separate the cacao butter from the solids. What remains is a dark powder with a bitter, chocolatey taste.

Cacao powder contains flavonoids, magnesium, potassium, iron, and phenylethylamine (PEA). The high flavonoid content gives cacao powder antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The PEA can help boost mood and focus.

Unlike cocoa powder, which is processed at high heat, cacao powder retains more nutrients from the cacao bean. It has a grittier, earthier taste than cocoa powder.

Key Takeaway: Cacao powder retains more nutrients from the raw cacao bean compared to cocoa powder, giving it higher antioxidant levels. It has a strong chocolate flavor.

Difference Between Cacao Powder and Cocoa Powder

While cacao powder and cocoa powder both originate from cacao beans, there are some key differences:

  • Processing: Cacao powder is less processed compared to cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is processed at much higher temperatures, which destroys some of the nutrients.
  • Roasting: Cacao beans are not roasted, while cocoa beans are roasted at high temperatures.
  • Alkalization: Cocoa powder undergoes a process called alkalization or "dutching" to alter the flavor and color. Cacao powder does not.
  • Taste: Cacao powder has a more bitter, intense chocolate taste compared to cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is generally sweeter.
  • Texture: Cacao powder has a grittier, grainier texture while cocoa powder is usually smoother.
  • Ingredients: Cocoa powder may contain dairy products, sugars, and other additives. Cacao powder is 100% cacao bean.

Key Takeaway: Cacao powder is less processed, not roasted or alkalized, and contains only the cacao bean. Cocoa powder undergoes more processing and may have other ingredients added.

Nutritional Benefits of Cacao Powder

Cacao powder provides various nutritional benefits:

  • Antioxidants: It is high in flavonoids and polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds can help reduce cell damage in the body.
  • Magnesium: Cacao beans are one of the richest sources of magnesium. Magnesium plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.
  • Iron: Cacao powder contains iron to help transport oxygen through the blood. This makes it a good iron source for vegans and vegetarians.
  • Fiber: There are around 8 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams of cacao powder. Fiber promotes good digestion and heart health.
  • Mood booster: Cacao contains phenylethylamine (PEA) which enhances mood. It also contains theobromine, a mild stimulant.

Key Takeaway: Cacao powder delivers antioxidants, magnesium, iron, fiber, and compounds to boost mood and focus. This makes it a nutritional powerhouse.

How to Use Cacao Powder in Recipes

Cacao powder can be seamlessly substituted for cocoa powder in recipes. Here are some tips when using cacao powder in recipes:

  • Since cacao powder has a stronger flavor, start by using 3/4 of the amount of cocoa powder specified. Adjust to taste.
  • The gritty texture of cacao powder means you may need to increase liquids slightly in baking recipes so batters blend smoothly.
  • Cacao powder pairs well with natural sweeteners like maple syrup, dates, stevia, and coconut sugar. It also goes well with nuts, seeds, nut butter, avocado, bananas, cherries, citrus, berries, and vanilla.
  • Add cacao powder at the end of cooking recipes for maximum antioxidant retention.
  • Store cacao powder away from light and moisture to preserve freshness.

Cacao Powder Recipes

Here are some delicious ways to use cacao powder:

Smoothies and Drinks

Cacao powder blends perfectly into smoothies, giving them a chocolate milkshake taste. It also makes a rich and antioxidant-packed hot chocolate.

  • Chocolate smoothies: Blend cacao powder into your favorite smoothie with bananas, nut butter, and milk for chocolatey flavor.
  • Chocolate milk: Whisk together cacao powder, your milk of choice, and natural sweetener for homemade chocolate milk.
  • Hot chocolate: Heat milk and whisk in cacao powder, vanilla, and sweetener for a cozy hot chocolate without the processed ingredients.
  • Chocolate lattes: Add cacao powder to coffee or espresso for a luxurious mocha latte.
  • Protein shakes: Cacao powder can add flavor and nutrition to post-workout protein shakes.

Baked Goods

Bake your favorite treats with cacao powder for guilt-free chocolatey goodness. The powder infuses fudgy richness into baked goods.

  • Brownies: Make fudgy brownies with cacao powder for intense chocolate flavor without dairy.
  • Cakes: Add cacao powder to cake batters or frostings to make chocolate cakes and cupcakes.
  • Cookies: Cacao powder brings chocolate chip cookies, double chocolate cookies, and chocolate crinkle cookies to life.
  • Muffins: Stir cacao powder into muffin batter for chocolate zucchini muffins or chocolate banana muffins.
  • Quick breads: Mix cacao powder into banana bread, zucchini bread, or pumpkin bread batter for chocolatey loaves.

Healthy Desserts

Cacao powder allows you to make "healthy" chocolate desserts using natural ingredients like avocados and sweet potatoes.

  • Chocolate pudding: Blend ripe avocados with cacao powder and sweetener for creamy chocolate pudding.
  • Chocolate mousse: Make airy chocolate mousse by whipping together avocado or tofu with cacao powder and sweetener.
  • Fudge: Mix cacao powder into nut butter and coconut oil then freeze to make healthy fudge.
  • Bliss balls: Stir cacao powder into sticky dates, nut butter, and oats for no-bake chocolate energy bites.
  • Chocolate bowls: Blend bananas, cacao powder, and nut butter then freeze in bowls for chocolate nice cream.
  • Sweet potato brownies: Bake fudgy sweet potato brownies with almond flour and cacao powder for a nutritious treat.

Savory Dishes

Don't limit cacao powder to only sweet recipes! Add it to sauces, soups, marinades, and stews for richness.

  • Chili or stew: Stir in a tablespoon of cacao powder to lend depth and richness.
  • Mole sauce: Cacao powder is a key ingredient in the traditional Mexican mole sauce.
  • Dry rubs: Combine cacao powder with smoked paprika, salt, pepper, and spices for a sweet and smoky rub for meats.
  • Teriyaki marinade: Mix cacao powder into teriyaki marinade for a complex sweet and umami flavor.
  • Shelf-stable sauce: Make your own shelf-stable cacao-based barbecue sauce, enchilada sauce, or pasta sauce.

Key Takeaway: Cacao powder works well in smoothies, baked goods, healthy desserts, and even savory dishes like stews and sauces.


Can you use cocoa powder instead of cacao powder?

Yes, cocoa powder can be substituted for cacao powder in recipes. However, since cocoa powder has a milder taste, you may need to increase the amount to achieve the same chocolate intensity. Also, adjust liquids as cocoa powder tends to be drier.

What is the best way to store cacao powder?

To retain freshness and nutrients, store cacao powder away from light and moisture in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Refrigeration can extend the shelf-life but is not required. Properly stored, it can last over a year past any "best by" date.

How do you make cacao powder taste less bitter?

Cacao powder's bitterness comes from the antioxidants. To mellow the bitterness, combine cacao powder with natural sweeteners like maple syrup, pitted dates, bananas, or coconut sugar. You can also roast cacao powder lightly to reduce bitterness.

Can you put cacao powder in coffee?

Yes! Add 1-2 teaspoons of cacao powder to your morning coffee for an antioxidant and magnesium-rich mocha drink. The cacao pairs well with the coffee bitterness, giving you all the flavor of a mocha latte.

Is cacao powder keto-friendly?

Cacao powder is very low in carbohydrates and sugars, making it a great keto-approved ingredient. Add it to keto smoothies, fat bombs, mug cakes, and more for an extra boost of nutrients and chocolate flavor.


Cacao powder retains all the nutritional benefits of raw cacao beans to deliver a powerhouse of antioxidants, magnesium, iron, and fiber. With its intense chocolatey flavor, cacao powder can be seamlessly used in place of cocoa powder in both sweet and savory recipes.

Add cacao powder to smoothies, baked goods, healthy no-bake desserts, coffee drinks, sauces, dry rubs, and more for a nutrition upgrade. With proper storage, cacao powder can last over a year to satisfy all your chocolate cravings in a healthy way.

Sarah Cortez
Sarah Cortez

My name is Sarah and I'm a baker who loves trying out new recipes and flavor combinations. I decided to challenge myself to use a new spice or ingredient powder in my baking each week for a year. Some successes were the cardamom sugar cookies, vivid turmeric cake, and beetroot chocolate cupcakes. Failures included the bitter neem brownies and overwhelmingly hot ghost pepper snickerdoodles. Through this experience I've discovered amazing additions to spice up desserts while learning how to balance strong flavors. Follow my journey as I push the boundaries of baking with unique powders!

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