What’s the Difference between Cacao Powder and Cocoa?

Who doesn’t like a good chocolate bar or maybe a decadent double chocolate cake smothered in chocolate frosting? This rich treat loved across the world has had several claims that your health will benefit by eating chocolate daily since its a super food used for generations past. Great news, right?!

Before we run out and buy as many chocolate products as possible and enjoy them with that glass of merlot, it might be good to define what source of chocolate these health claims have been made about. Studies haven’t done the best job in being upfront with what source of chocolate they are using, and for the most part, people have been mislead. Some sources of cocoa are more nutrient dense than others, and I’m here to try and help enlighten you.


Cacao vs. Cocoa 

Cacao powder has been processed by cold pressing methods. Because the powder has not been heated, beneficial enzymes are still present which are needed to garner as many health benefits as possible. Most studies related to chocolate are done on substances closer to raw, cold pressed cocao.

Cocoa powder is made by first roasting the cacao bean then grinding it into a fine powder. Through this roasting process many of the nutrients are destroyed, thus taking away its healthy nutrients.

I found this article helpful in understanding what actually happens when cacao beans are roasted.

So, What’s the Big Deal With Flavonoids?

Lots of research has been done on this whole food, most of it centering around the flavonoids that it contains. What are flavonoids and whats the big deal?

“”Flavonoids are a plant-based antioxidant found in chocolate,” says Rebecca Scritchfield, RD and author of Body Kindness. “The antioxidant properties of flavonoids are what stimulates health benefits from chocolate, such as helping with blood flow and decreasing cholesterol.” Cocoa contains two types of flavonoids, flavanols and flavonols. Flavanols, the prominent type of flavonoid found in cocoa and chocolate, are the source of the antioxidant qualities.” – Readers Digest

Cacao’s Impressive List of Health Benefits

  • Lower insulin resistance and blood pressure.
  • Shield nerve cells from damage as well as protects your nervous system.
  • Cut your risk of stroke due to the flavinoids that are present in chocolate.
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease: The antioxidants found in cacao help to maintain healthy levels of nitric oxide (NO) in the body. Although NO has heart-beneficial qualities, such as relaxing blood vessels and reducing blood pressure, it also produces toxins. The antioxidants in cacao neutralize these toxins, protecting your heart and preventing disease.
  • High in antioxidants which may help in reducing the risk of some cancers.
  • Boost your mood.
  • Full of several minerals: Magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese.

What About Cooking and Baking With Cacao

The one grey area surrounding cacao powder is what happens to it during the process of cooking baked goods at home. Studies have shown that it’s more nutrient dense due to the fact that it was not processed by first roasting it. So, what happens when you heat it up in the oven while baking that delicious brownie? Are the nutrients lost?

There’s just not a ton out there with info on this subject. I googled two or three different phrases and questions with each search brought up very generic info on cacao just like I’ve presented on this post. Personally, I’ll probably just stick with using cacao powder in the foods I know I won’t be cooking while keeping to my use of cocoa powder in baked goods. It will be interesting to see what is said on this as studies continue.

How I use Cacao Powder

Basically, cacao  powder can be subbed for cocoa powder in most recipe. Here’s what Paleo Hacks has to say on the subject.

“A quick note on baking before you get started. You might be using Paleo dessert recipes designed for cocoa, as those are more common. Can you simply use cacao in a one-to-one-substitution? Most of the time, yes. Every once in a while you might run into a recipe where doing so makes the taste a little off.

Cocoa is a bit sweeter than cacao due to the higher processing temperature. That means you might need to tweak cocoa-based recipes a little to get the taste you’re looking for. Buying top-quality cocoa, or following recipes designed with cacao in mind, are other options. Play around with it, experiment, and find out what tastes best to you!”

I’ve found it extrememly yummy in the following recipes. Again, get comfortable with experimenting in your kitchen and when you find a good cocao recipe, please share it with me!

• Double Chocolate Fat Balls

The Whole Food Diary’s Smoothie Bowl

Paleo Fudgy Bites

For Further Information on Cocao

*I Quit Sugar

*Natural News

*NCBI Pub Med



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