What’s the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?

There are many things that make me go hmmm – like, why does the server always come around to ask you how your meal is right when you’ve just taken a big bite of your lunch? Another head scratcher is what’s the difference between cacao and cocoa AND which one is healthier? I’ll break it down…

Cacao vs. Cocoa – What’s the difference?

If you really get down to the nitty-gritty of the words, it goes a little something like this:

Cacao originates from Theobroma Cacao – a fruit tree that is native to South America. This tree produces cacao pods which contain cacao beans. History has it that in its adoption into the English language, Cacao became Cocoa and no distinction between raw and processed/cooked was made. 

Purists have now brought the distinction between Cacao and Cocoa into the mainstream. Although the terms are not regulated, cacao powder generally means that the bean is in its raw, uncooked, unprocessed, pure state whereas cocoa powder accounts for beans that have been cleaned, roasted, and processed. 


What are the Health Benefits of Raw Cacao?

  • one of the highest food sources of antioxidants  
  • one of the highest food sources of magnesium (improving bowel regularity, muscle cramps, insomnia and has a calming effect)
  • beneficial for the treatment of depression because it contains the naturally occurring chemical of Theobromine which triggers ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain.
  • helps with fluid retention (that can be linked to heart failure)
  • lowers insulin resistance
  • repairs damage caused by toxins
  • contains fiber
  • contains high levels of iron (great for anemics!)


What should I look for when Shopping?

When shopping for cacao, look for words like ‘unprocessed’, ‘unheated’, ‘raw’, ‘organic’. Here are a few that I like: Nativas Naturals, TerraSoul, Prana (available in Canada).

When looking for Cacao products such as chocolate bars, look for ones that contain at least 70% chocolate and only contain 3-4 ingredients or less (other than the inclusion of dried fruit, nuts, etc…). Learn to enjoy dark chocolate you really will only need a square or 2 at a time. I have learned to literally nibble on a square of chocolate and let it melt in my mouth because -yup- it’s that good! Here are a few of my favorite, clean chocolate bars: Alter Ego, Equal Exchange, Taza


Interesting tidbits (in case you need any more reasons to eat chocolate…)

  • **A Japanese study found that eating dark chocolate (minimum 70% dark) supports weight loss!
  • **A 9-year study of  Swedish women who ate 1-2 weekly servings of a high-quality dark (+ 50% dark) had a 32-percent lower risk of developing heart failure, a benefit earlier studies have linked to compounds called flavonoids (source: Harvard Medical)
  • **A Harvard study finds that eating a small square of dark chocolate daily can help lower blood pressure for people with hypertension AND help to improve cholesterol!
  • There is evidence that cacao was consumed as far back as 1900 BC!

Inhale.Exhale.Eat.Repeat :)

What makes you go hmmm?






Harvard Medical School

Superfood Juices and Smoothies – Tina Leigh

The Healthy Food Directory – Michael Van Straten