I use chocolate and cocoa/cacao powder in many of my recipes, so this question of whether there’s any difference between them has come up several times. This post will explain the answer.
What is the Difference Between Cocoa and Cacao?
Shockingly, the answer is there’s not much difference!
It appears that the word cacao originated from the name of the cacao tree – Theobroma cacao, but an unfortunately spelling mistake resulted in the word cocoa being introduced into the English language as well (I’ve found no proof, just some speculations about the mistake).
So, are Cocoa and Cacao the same then?
Not necessarily! Generally, cacao has come to mean the raw, unroasted form whereas cocoa means the more processed, roasted form.
So, you often see hot chocolate powder being called cocoa powder because cocoa powder is typically more processed, the beans used to make the cocoa powder have been roasted, and there’s often sugar or cacao butter added into it.
However, if you purchase raw cacao powder, it’s generally unroasted, unprocessed, and doesn’t contain cacao butter or added sugar. This is also the form that is generally touted to have various health benefits (e.g., due to its high concentration of antioxidants and flavonols).
Is Raw Cacao Powder Better For Your Health?
Again, the answer appears to be Not Necessarily!
As the detailed comment by CocoaLady in this forum suggests, the processing of cacao beans to produce either type of powder necessitates a certain amount of heating, so there’s no guarantee that an expensive raw cacao powder wasn’t heated to above 110F at some point in the process.
Should You Buy Cacao or Cocoa Powder?
I personally think it makes little difference (unless you’re planning to take raw cacao powder as a supplement) as long as you purchase cacao/cocoa powder without any added cacao butter or sugar – it’s always good to check the ingredients list no matter what name they call it on the label!
Additionally, most recipes that call for cacao or cocoa powder involve heating the mixture anyway, so any benefits you might gain from raw cacao powder would be lost regardless.
Here are some cacao and cocoa powders I’ve bought before and used interchangeably (the links are Amazon Affiliate links – i.e., I get a paid a small commission from Amazon if you purchase anything).
Trader Joe’s Cocoa Powder Unsweetened (This product may contain a higher concentration of cacao butter than other powders, but I didn’t notice any difference when using it).