Have you ever wondered what the difference is between cocoa and cacao? Maybe a few misplaced vowels?
Well, both raw cacao (available as powder, butter or nibs) and cocoa are made from the cacao bean, but are the result of very different routes to the grocery store shelf… and have very different nutritional values! I present Cocoa vs. Cacao: a Nutritional Smackdown. If you want to make an informed decision next time you’re facing down cocoa and raw cacao in the grocery store, read on.
Are cacao beans legumes?
First things first: cacao (Theobroma cacao) is a small evergreen tree in the family Malvaceae that’s native to the deep tropical region of the Americas. Cocoa, raw cacao and chocolate are made from the seeds. Cacao beans are not legumes (family Leguminosae) despite being commonly referred to as “beans”.
Is cacao high in phytic acid?
One thing to keep in mind is that cacao beans have a high phytic acid content which is partly removed via processing… so while raw cacao is much higher in beneficial flavonols (as detailed below), in its raw form it may inhibit mineral absorption. Ramiel Nagel recommends fermenting raw cacao nibs but information on technique is scarce.
What are the other nutritional considerations when evaluating cocoa vs. cacao?
Without getting too technical, evidence suggests that a sub-category of flavonols called flavonoids in cacao are responsible for health benefits after consumption. Flavonoids are damaged by the heating step in the commercial process of making cocoa, but are preserved in the raw form! Likely health benefits include reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, increased vascular strength, and lowered insulin resistance. Not bad, right? It also guards against toxins: as a potent antioxidant, cacao can repair the damage done by free radicals in our chemical-laden modern environment. In fact, if you only have the budget for one superfood then cacao should be a contender, because it contains far more antioxidants per 100g than acai, goji berries and blueberries.
Cocoa vs. Cacao Nutritional Smackdown Verdict?
Cacao! There are significant beneficial properties preserved in the raw form of cacao, but avoid large quantities if you’re concerned about excess phytates.
Below are some of my favorite recipes using both raw cacao and cocoa, including one of my own:
Rachel Ball is the creator of Fresh Planet Flavor, a blog featuring real-food recipes with a Paleo/Primal focus. Rachel enjoys stretching her culinary creativity with unconventional twists on recipes using whole ingredients, and began her blog as a place to share the results with family, friends, and anyone with an adventurous palate. When she’s not in the kitchen cranking up the oven, she enjoys running, Crossfit, yoga, shopping at the farmer’s market and experimenting with recipes. Follow Rachel on Fresh Planet Flavor.