Cacao powder is made from the beans found inside the fruit pods that grow on cacao trees, which are native to tropical regions of South and Central America. Known as a superfood and the least processed form of chocolate, cacao powder provides many amazing health benefits that you may not be aware of.
Cacao powder is nutrient-dense, packed with antioxidants, and has been linked to improved heart and brain health. It can be added to smoothies, desserts, and drinks for an easy chocolate flavor boost.
If you love chocolate but want to enjoy it in a healthier way, cacao powder is the perfect solution. Keep reading to find out exactly what cacao powder is, how it differs from cocoa powder, and all the ways it can benefit your health and well-being.
What is Cacao Powder?
Cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans, the seeds found inside cacao pods. This raw form of chocolate retains more of the nutrients and antioxidants found in the whole cacao bean.
After harvesting, the cacao beans are fermented, dried, hulled, and ground into a fine powder that has a rich, earthy, and slightly bitter flavor. Cacao powder contains no additives or extra ingredients, it's 100% pure cacao.
Key Takeaway: Cacao powder is made from cold-pressed, unroasted cacao beans. It's a raw, minimally processed chocolate product.
The cacao tree, with the scientific name Theobroma cacao, grows natively in tropical regions of South America, Central America, and Mexico. The term "cacao" originates from the Olmec word "kakawa".
Cacao beans and cacao powder have been prized since ancient times and used ceremonially by Aztec, Mayan, and Olmec civilizations. However, today most of the world's cacao is grown across Africa, Asia, and South America.
The cacao bean is bursting with nutrients and antioxidants. Cacao powder retains more of these healthy compounds compared to standard cocoa powder and chocolate bars because it undergoes less processing.
What is the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?
Though their names sound similar, cacao and cocoa powder are produced differently which impacts their nutritional value.
Cacao powder is raw, unroasted, and cold-pressed. Cocoa powder starts from the same cacao bean but is roasted at high temperatures during processing.
Roasting destroys some of the antioxidants and nutrients in the cacao bean. So while cocoa powder does have some benefits, cacao powder is more nutrient-dense.
Cacao powder has a richer chocolate flavor and retains more of the complexity and nuance of the natural cacao bean. Cocoa powder tends to have a sweeter, smoother flavor.
Key Takeaway: Cacao powder is less processed than cocoa powder, maintaining more antioxidants and nutrients from the cacao bean.
In recipes, cacao and cocoa powder can usually be substituted 1:1. However, the difference in flavor means you may need to adjust other ingredients like sugar. Expect cocoa powder to dissolve more easily while cacao powder has a grittier, grainier texture.
When buying cocoa powder, check the ingredients list for additives like sugar and milk powders. Pure cacao powder contains just one ingredient - cacao!
4 Amazing Health Benefits of Cacao Powder
Thanks to an impressive nutritional profile, regularly eating cacao powder can benefit your health in multiple ways. Here are some of the top health perks of adding cacao to your diet:
1. Packed with Antioxidants and Flavonoids
Cacao beans are extremely high in antioxidants and flavonoids, which are a type of polyphenol antioxidant. In particular, cacao is rich in flavonoids like epicatechin, catechin, and procyanidins.
These antioxidants help combat oxidative stress caused by free radicals and protect cells from damage. Oxidative stress has been linked to many chronic diseases.
Flavonoids also offer protective cardiovascular benefits, improving heart health and potentially reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. Just a small serving of cacao powder contains a whopping 43.6mg of flavonoids per gram!
2. May Boost Mood and Act as an Anti-depressant
Cacao contains compounds like tryptophan, manganese, phenylethylamine, and theobromine that may help elevate mood and promote feelings of joy and happiness.
Phenylethylamine in particular is known as the "love drug" that our brain produces when we feel happy or emotionally connected to someone. Consuming cacao causes our brain to produce more of this feel-good chemical.
While more research is needed, the mood-enhancing potential of cacao provides a healthier alternative to reaching for a sugary chocolate bar when you're feeling low.
3. Improves Brain Function and Health
The flavanols in cacao stimulate blood flow to the brain and assist in the production of new neurons. This boosts brain function and cognition in the short term while also providing long-term benefits for brain health.
Cacao powder is also rich in magnesium, iron, chromium, and zinc which all support brain development and help prevent cognitive decline. The antioxidants protect against oxidative damage that can harm brain cells.
4. Source of Essential Minerals
Two minerals found abundantly in cacao powder are magnesium and iron. Just a 10-gram serve provides around 140mg of magnesium.
Magnesium is vital for converting food into cellular energy, muscle contractions, nerve function, bone development, and regulating heart rhythm and blood pressure.
Meanwhile, the iron content makes cacao powder a great plant-based source of this mineral which is essential for preventing anaemia. Combining cacao with vitamin C foods optimizes iron absorption.
More Amazing Uses and Benefits
Beyond these four key health benefits, cacao powder offers additional perks:
- Has an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
- May protect skin from sun damage thanks to antioxidant content.
- Contains caffeine and theobromine which provide gentle stimulation.
- High fiber content supports digestion and gut health.
- Provides B vitamins, zinc, potassium, copper, and manganese.
- Linked to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol and reduced heart disease risk.
- May support weight loss or maintenance due to compounds that regulate metabolism.
With all these benefits, it's easy to see why cacao powder earns the label of superfood!
How to Add Cacao Powder to Your Diet
Thankfully, it's easy and delicious to start reaping the health perks of cacao powder. Here are five simple ways to eat more cacao:
- Smoothies - Blend 1-2 tablespoons of cacao powder into your favorite smoothie recipe. It pairs perfectly with a banana!
- Baked Goods - Use cacao powder in place of cocoa powder in recipes for brownies, cookies, cakes, and other chocolatey baked treats.
- Healthy Hot Chocolate - Combine cacao powder, your milk of choice, and a natural sweetener for a luxurious hot chocolate without the guilt!
- Homemade Mocha - Add a tablespoon of cacao powder to hot coffee for an antioxidant-rich mocha-style pick-me-up.
- DIY Chocolate Bars - With cacao powder, cocoa butter, and a sweetener you can create sugar-free chocolate bars to enjoy as a snack.
Cacao powder has a strong flavor so you only need to use small amounts to give food and drinks a chocolatey infusion. Start with 1 teaspoon at a time when adding it to foods or beverages.
For baking, you can generally swap cocoa powder for cacao powder 1:1 in any recipe, just remember the flavors will be slightly different.
Is cacao powder healthy?
Yes! Cacao powder is rich in antioxidants, high in fiber, and packed with essential vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. It provides many health benefits related to brain function, mood, heart health, inflammation, and more.
What does cacao powder taste like?
Cacao powder has a rich, earthy chocolate taste but it is usually more bitter than cocoa powder or chocolate. It also has fruity, nutty notes and lacks the sweetness of processed chocolate.
Is cacao powder good for weight loss?
The fiber, nutrients, and compounds in cacao powder can help support weight loss, particularly when eaten in place of unhealthy treats. However, cacao is calorie-dense so portions should be controlled.
Can I replace cocoa with cacao powder when baking?
Yes, you can substitute 1:1 in most recipes. Keep in mind cacao powder has a stronger flavour so you may wish to reduce the amount and the end result will be slightly different than with cocoa powder.
Is cacao powder keto-friendly?
Cacao powder contains very low net carbs and high fat, making it perfect for a ketogenic diet. However, it does contain some caffeine so consume in moderation if sensitive.
Can cacao powder go bad or expire?
Like other dry powders, cacao powder can last 1-2 years when properly stored away from direct light and humidity. Over time, it may lose potency and flavor but it won't make you sick.
Cacao powder offers an easy and nutritious way to enjoy chocolate in its purest form. Made from cold-pressed cacao beans, it provides all the health benefits of chocolate without the added sugar and unhealthy fats found in most candy bars.
Packed with antioxidants that fight disease, cacao powder can boost brain function, elevate mood, improve heart health, and much more. With its rich chocolatey flavor, cacao powder makes a tasty addition to smoothies, desserts, baked goods, and beverages.