Despite the similarities in their names, cacao and cocoa are both unique and have their own differences when it comes to processing, flavour and health benefits.
We often see health magazines raving about chocolate’s amazing nutritional value, but they’re not actually talking about your average chocolate bar. The chocolate they’re referring to is cacao, which is the part that provides the health benefits.
The reason why cacao offers so many health benefits, unlike its similar counterpart cocoa, is due to its lack of processing. Both products are made from the same cacao plant, hence why they have the same smell and taste. But unlike cocoa, cacao is made by cold-pressing raw cacao beans. This process retains the living enzymes from the original cacao bean and removes the fat, known as cacao butter. Therefore, all of the health benefits and nutritional value remains.
Alternatively, cocoa is made by fermenting, drying and roasting the cacao beans at a high temperature. Followed by the extraction and separation of oils from the remaining solids, which are then turned into a dry powder. Cocoa powder, often labelled as ‘Dutch-pressed’ also involves an alkalised solution to deliver a richer and less acidic taste. As we can see, the main processing difference between the two ingredients is the high temperature roasting used to make cocoa. Unfortunately, this technique changes the chemical structure of the bean, which reduces the enzyme content and therefore decreases the overall nutritional value.
So now that we know cacao powder is the better option due to the lack of processing, let’s discuss what these benefits actually are…
Cacao provides an abundance of health benefits, which have been linked to reducing a range of diseases and health conditions, including reduced inflammation, improved blood flow, promoting good heart health and enhancing mood.
One of the major health benefits of cacao comes from its high antioxidant content, specifically ‘flavanols’. Antioxidants are substances that protect our cells against free radicals, which are the produced when we digest certain foods. Consuming foods rich in antioxidants (like cacao) will not only help reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, but will also contribute to reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improved cognitive function and delayed age-related memory decline.
Cacao also contains a variety of micronutrients, such as potassium, zinc, iron, magnesium phosphorus and calcium…the list goes on! These nutrients are an essential part of the diet, and help us maintain a healthy immune system, fluid balance, growth and development. Cacao is also a great source of dietary fibre, providing approximately 33 grams per 100 grams. Consuming a consistent and high fibre intake is a key part of a healthy diet, as it helps control our blood sugar levels and keeps us fuller for longer.
So go ahead and swap your cocoa for cacao. You’ll still be satisfying that chocolate craving but adding a whole heap of nutritional value too!
Cacao powder is used in the same way as cocoa, whether it be in baked goods, smoothies, raw desserts, snack bars, protein balls, or hot chocolate… the opportunities are endless!
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