Cacao vs. Cocoa: What’s the Difference?


Most health enthusiasts know that there are health benefits to both Cacao and Cocoa, but many people want to know:

  • What’s the difference?
  • Which do I use and when?
  • Am I even pronouncing them properly?

The Basics

Cacao (pronounced Kakaw) , is the raw ingredient, derived from the bean of a Cacao tree.  The Cacao bean is used either to create Cacao, or Cocoa powder. Cocoa and Cacao powders are both used in chocolate or chocolate related products.(1) Cacao beans are prepared for the process of making Cocoa by being sun dried and fermented. Before processing the Cacao bean is un-roasted, it is loaded with superfood powers and natural flavanols. More than 3 million tons of Cacao beans are used annually.(2)

Then, there’s Cocoa (pronounced Co-Co),  the processed powder made from Cacao beans (or nibs), is used in confectionary goods such as Chocolate, or baked goods. The processing method used to create Cocoa powder form Cacao beans is typically either Dutch or European.  During Dutch processing in particular as per Ian Charles Purtle and Todd Walter Gusek in their article “2000 Method and arrangement for processing cocoa mass”, an alkalizing roasting treatment is used before grinding and roasting the Cacao nibs to result in the creation of either Cocoa or Cocoa Liquor.(3) It is in the alkalized/Dutch process, or other roasting and refining processes that many of Cacao’s natural flavanols can be lost.(4)  Another by-product of this process is Cocoa butter. Both Cocoa butter and Cocoa Liqueur, can be used on their own or, as often found, as ingredients in a traditional chocolate bar.

Just how much better is Cacao over the more conventional Cocoa?

Research is currently being done with both Cacao and Cocoa to determine their benefits.  Most popular accounts of the benefits of Cocoa and Cacao come from studies recommending that chocolate, composed of both Cocoa and Cacao, is good for your heart, health, and libido because of its natural antioxidants. Does this mean that both Cocoa and Cacao have the same effects?

Not necessarily.  Like all super foods, when eaten in cooked or refined states, as in the case of Cocoa, the super foods’ effects on our bodies may be slightly weakened.  When kept in raw form, Cacao’s powerful plant nutrients, flavanols, cause the lining of the arteries to produce nitric oxide and relax so that more blood can flow to the heart and body. This lowers blood pressure, which contributes to good cardiovascular health and has a similar effect to taking aspirin to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack.(4) When the Cacao bean is refined and heated to create Cocoa, these flavanols are lost.(5)

But, even given some loss in nutrient superpower, recent research has also shown that Cocoa still maintains some benefits as it may help with weight loss, to evoke a happier mood, and or to fight off bacteria and inflammation.(6)  Another study by Mars also shows the benefits of Cocoa on your brain. The study found that after only three months of consuming 900 mg of Cocoa a day, individuals aged 50- 69 had improved cognitive performance.(7) There was no suggested dose of Cocoa found outside of the Mars study. Alternatively, a recommended dose of Cacao was suggested by another study to be about an ounce of Cacao (20 – 28 grams) rich dark chocolate per day. (4)  Thus, consuming either Cacao or Cocoa is shown to be beneficial and which one to use really comes down to whether you’re creating a raw or cooked/baked dish.

Finding and Using Cacao vs. Cocoa:

It can be seen from the studies above that utilizing Cacao in raw dishes such as a smoothie or energy ball would be an optimal way to gain its benefits, and when baking or cooking, you can switch to using Cocoa.  I wrote on this topic in my article, Raw food vs.Cooked.

When shopping for Chocolate to eat raw, look for the “percent (%) Cacao which refers to the proportion of the product made from the cacao bean.”(4) You can find this on the back of most chocolate bars in the ingredients list. The higher the Cacao percentage the more antioxidants and flavanols, you’ll receive. In this case, pure raw 100% Cacao chocolate is best and often has less sugar and other additives added.

For other ways to increase your Cacao or Cocoa intake check out your local health food stores organic section.

Protein Packed Brownies 

Here we show how to utilize Cocoa powder in a baking/cooking recipe. Because we are baking the brownies with some heat, you’re not “wasting” Cacao by using Cocoa instead … and we find they taste great with Cocoa!


This recipe is nothing short of amazing. These brownies taste and look just like traditional brownies, but are nutritious and loaded with protein due to the almond butter and whey protein.

Basic Smoothies

In this case, add 2 tbsp Cacao powder or nibs to this Basic Smoothie recipe including a list of what you can add for flavor, and more good healthy fats. Because we are consuming this recipe raw, Cacao’s benefits will be fully utilized by the body.FBOpenGraph_Alt_Basic-Smoothies

A smoothie is the best, fastest way to start your day! I like to have a shake at least 3 days a week and alternate with other options like eggs and yogurt the other days.

Do you use Cacao or Cocoa in your daily diet?  Let me know in the comments how you benefit … and any favourite uses!

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Dr. B.J. Hardick

About Dr. B.J. Hardick

Dr. B.J. Hardick is a Doctor of Chiropractic and internationally-recognized natural health author and speaker. His health journey began as a child — alternative medicine is the only medicine he has ever known. In 2009, he authored his first book, Maximized Living Nutrition Plans. In 2018, he authored his second book, Align Your Health. An energizing and passionate speaker, Dr. Hardick shares his lifestyle methods to numerous professional and public audiences every year in the United States and Canada. His teachings encompass the principles of ancestral nutrition, detoxification, functional fitness, mindfulness, and green living. Learn More