It’s common for people to get confused about the differences between Cacao and Cocoa. Both of these products have a number of health benefits and taste profiles that earn them a place in the modern coffee shop, or home kitchen. However, a popular method of processing Cocoa can significantly reduce health benefits.
Cacao Powder vs Cocoa Powder
Most people will use the product in its powdered form, so what is the difference between the two? In fact, while they both originate from a small tree called ‘Theobroma’, the difference comes in the way they are processed.
Cacao powder is processed at a lower heat, sometimes just baked in the sun, and retains much of its nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein, good fats, and a healthy dose of fibre, which makes it an essential ingredient in vegan desserts or meals.
Quality Cocoa Powder is made by heating the cacao beans to a higher temperature and sometimes adding alkaline solutions to reduce the bitterness natural to the cacao. Cocoa powder has been roasted which creates a different flavour profile, and kills any bacteria that might be present in a ‘raw’ form of the bean.
That said, during fermenting, the temperature might, in fact, go above the minimum ‘raw’ temperature. If you’re going to use raw cacao in your cooking, then buy it from a reputable source to ensure the beans have been tested and sourced responsibly.
Finally, due to the alkalising procedure used for cocoa production, the all-natural level of acidity is balanced and Cocoa therefore, can be a less acidic flavour. The USDA has a slightly technical definition based on different manufacturing processes:
- Cocoa (USDA refers to it as ‘Breakfast Cocoa’)
- Cacao nibs (USDA definition)
- Drinking Chocolate (USDA groups this under the label of ‘Sweet Chocolate’)
What are Cacao Nibs
Cacao nibs are raw cacao from crushed cacao beans that have not been roasted or processed further. While tasty and with a rich flavour that reflects the type of cacao fruit and region it was originated from, they are quite hard and not necessarily something you would eat raw. They do, however, go well in many baking recipes and are used in hot cocoa drinks for an extra chocolaty and healthy addition.
These beans are seeds from cacao pods which have been fermented as well as dried out. As a result of this, many sources cite both as having the affiliated health and nutritional advantages of Cacao – however, studies from the Hershey Center for Health and Wellbeing found back in 2011 that 98% of the beneficial flavonoid epicatechin are lost when processing with Alkali – often referred to as ‘Dutch Processed Cocoa’.
What is Dutch Processed Cocoa?
Raw cacao isn’t submitted to temperatures over 42°C which helps to retain the nutritional content. It is usually purchased as a powder or as raw cacao nibs.
Now, there’s a bit of controversy concerning the real rawness of cacao beans as when fermenting the temperature level might exceed the minimum ‘raw’ temperature. Likewise, roasting beans kill off some potentially dangerous microorganisms and can boost the flavour. If you’re choosing to go with the raw product, ensure you buy your Cacao from a reputable resource to make sure that beans have been sourced thoroughly and evaluated for levels of germs. Some great brands consist of Naturya and also Big Tree Farms.
Cacao and Health – the Science and the Facts
A study conducted on males of an average age of 40 showed that approximately 170mg of epicatechin per day, dosed at 2mg per kg of body weight, resulted in almost a 50% increase in follistatin and a 16.6% decrease in myostatin, alongside a strength increase of 7%. In a second study, researchers provided participants with 50-200mg of epicatechin a day and were amazed to find that their follistatin levels were 250% higher after just 5 days!
Epicatechin in Cacao and its Cardiovascular Effects
In a study performed on mice, dosing epicatechin at 1mg/kg of body weight resulted in increases in nitric oxide and endurance that persisted even in the absence of exercise. In other words, epicatechin supplementation offers athletes the potential for better muscle development and endurance even when they are not training.
Is Hot Chocolate Powder the Same as Cocoa Powder
Hot Chocolate or Drinking Chocolate is quite different from cacao, and is listed in the USDA’s guide as ‘Sweet Chocolate’. A link to their specification in the USDA website is shown in the list above.
Hot Chocolate is the roasted cacao, usually alkalized, then further processed with added skimmed milk and sugar or sweeteners. This results in a chocolatey drink that satisfies our sweet tooth, but cannot be considered healthy.