Cacao vs. Cocoa

“Is it Cacao or Cocoa?  Am I spelling it right?”  I’ve pondered this question for years.  I thought they were the same, but they aren’t.

While Cacao and Cocoa have similar origins, they have some essential differences that will distinctly differ.  They both come from the beans of the cacao plant; they are both milled and processed.  However, the difference lies in the temperature at which they are processed.

Cacao powder

The beans are processed at low temperatures and are considered raw. Once milled into a powder, it contains a much higher quantity of enzymes, minerals, and nutrients. It tastes more bitter than cocoa powder but offers more nutritional content and is considered more natural.

Cocoa powder

Cocoa powder is created when the beans are processed at a much higher temperature, which destroys some of the beneficial nutrients it contains. The beans are not only fermented but also roasted (cacao powder only involves fermentation). Without further processing, the cocoa is naturally acidic in taste. The finely ground and sifted product is sold as “natural cocoa”.  If you are consuming cocoa powder, be sure to seek out products with no added ingredients. 

Although cocoa has some nutritional benefits, cacao’s raw nutritional properties by far outweigh those of cocoa.

Cacao can mitigate the risk of Diabetes, Hypertension, improve Bone Health, and more

Raw cacao is an excellent source of magnesium. Getting enough magnesium is associated with a lower risk of diabetes and healthy blood pressure, strong bones, a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and healthy nervous system activity.

Cacao can reduce Inflammation and support Heart Health

Flavonoids are a class of antioxidants that are abundant in both cacao and cocoa powder. Flavonoids inhibit pro-inflammatory enzymes in the body, meaning that they have a widespread anti-inflammatory effect.  Additionally, flavonoids have been associated with higher “healthy” HDL cholesterol and better overall cardiovascular health.

Cacao can improve your mood

Cacao contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is associated with elevated mood and higher energy levels. This is thought to be due to the interaction between PEA and the neurotransmitter dopamine, regulating the brain’s reward response. 

Cacao is also an excellent iron source, which helps your body transport oxygen molecules to your tissue.  Both cacao and cocoa are excellent sources of fiber. They also contain some protein while having a relatively low-fat content.

Nutritional comparison 

1 tablespoon (5g) of cocoa powder contains:

  • 3 g carbohydrates
  • 0 g of sugar
  • 2 g of dietary fiber
  • <1 g of protein
  • 0.5 grams of total fat
  • 2.1 mg of iron
  • 0 mg of phosphorus
  • 6.4 mg of calcium
  • 0 mg of magnesium
  • 75 mg of potassium
  • 8 mg of caffeine

(Reference: Hershey’s Cocoa)

1 tablespoon (5g) of cacao powder contains:

  • 3 g of carbohydrates
  • 0 g of sugar
  • 2 g of dietary fiber
  • 1 g of protein
  • 0.5 g of total fat
  • 0.6 mg of iron
  • 10 mg of calcium
  • 40 mg of magnesium
  • 100 mg of potassium
  • 19.6 mg of caffeine

(Reference: Organic, Fair Trade Cacao powder)

Here are a couple of recipes you can try.

Gluten Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

Paleo Chocolate Cupcakes


The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. (Br J Clin Pharmacol. March 2013).

Spread the Word!