Besides a couple vowels, there are a few differences between cacao and cocoa. Cacao and cocoa are from the same plant, but processed differently.
Cacao – Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can consume. Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cocoa and removes the fat (cacao butter). Cacao is a great source of antioxidants and loaded with magnesium. You will often see cacao sold as nibs in stores and are simply cacao beans that have been chopped up into edible pieces, much like chocolate chips without the added sugars and fats.
Raw cacao beans are the best choice for “chocolate” health benefits because the beans have not been heated at high temperatures like cocoa and chocolate. The longer a cacao bean is heated, the less vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals are retained. When choosing dark chocolate, the higher percentage of cacao in the bar, the more bitter the chocolate will taste. To retain the most health benefits, the chocolate should be at least 70 percent cacao.
If you can handle the sharp bitter taste of raw cacao beans, get ready for quite the nutritional cocktail. Cacao beans are high in antioxidants which help to neutralize free radicals. They also contain vitamins E and B complex, as well as iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium and copper.
Cocoa – Cocoa is the term used to refer to the heated form of cacao that you probably grew up buying at the store in the form of cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is produced similarly to cacao except cocoa undergoes a higher temperature of heat during processing. Surprisingly, it still retains a large amount of antioxidants in the process and is excellent for your heart, skin, blood pressure, and even your stress levels.
When buying cocoa powder, be sure you buy plain cocoa powder, not cocoa mixes which often contain sugar. Look for either regular cocoa powder or Dutch-processed (a.k.a. dark) cocoa powder. Dutch-processed cocoa powder (dark cocoa) is cocoa powder that has been processed with an alkalized solution, making it less acidic and much richer in taste. Regular cocoa powder retains a more acidic nature and bitter taste, and is used in baking recipes with baking soda where Dutch-processed cocoa powder is not since it has already been alkalized.
You can use cocoa powder and cacao powder interchangeably in baking recipes, smoothies, oatmeal, cookies, homemade raw treats, or even stir them into your coffee for a homemade mocha. Both cacao and cocoa are highly nutritious for you and are sure to satisfy your chocolate cravings around the clock.