Everyone has used Cocoa somehow, no matter if you are a novice baker or an experienced chef. Cocoa powder is one of the most important ingredients in baking. You’ve probably seen cocoa in the baking aisles of your local grocery store. This ingredient has been more widely available in recent years.
It’s easy for people to misunderstand cacao and cocoa because their spellings differ only in placing two vowels. Although cacao and cocoa are closely related, it is important to know the differences.
What is the difference between Cacao and Cocoa beans?
Cacao is the raw cacao bean from which all chocolate products, including cocoa butter and cocoa powder, are made. How the cacao beans are processed is what makes cacao different from cocoa. Both begin with fermented cacao beans. The cacao beans are first processed at low temperatures before being ground into cacao nibs and pulverized into powder. Cacao nibs and cacao powder can be purchased in grocery stores.
Cocoa is most commonly referred to as the cocoa powder you use to bake with. The cacao beans must be fermented first and then roasted at high temperatures to make cocoa powder. The cacao beans are then crushed into cocoa nibs. This is followed by a grinding process that produces cocoa liquor. The cocoa liquor is then pressed to separate cocoa butter from cocoa solids. These solids, which still contain some cocoa butter, make cocoa powder. There are many types of cocoa powder, including natural cocoa powder and Dutch-process cocoa Powder. Also, dark cocoa is great for making rich, chocolaty baked goods.
Which is better for your health — Cacao or Cocoa?
While many sources claim cacao is healthier than cocoa due to its lower processing, more research is needed to verify this claim. The good news is that cocoa and chocolate products, in general, have been linked to various noticeable chocolate flavours. However, cacao has a stronger, earthier taste, similar to super-rich dark chocolate. Cocoa is typically sweeter than cacao and less bitter than cacao.
Is it possible to substitute cocoa powder for cacao powder?
In some cases, you can substitute cocoa powder for cacao powder. However, it is important to consider their differences in flavour and attributes. You might use cacao powder to make hot chocolate. However, cacao powder has a stronger flavour than cocoa powder. If you use cacao, you may need to increase the sweetness. Cacao powder can be used in smoothies, milkshakes and yoghurts. It is also great for no-cook desserts like chia pudding.
Baking is more complex. Kitchen Associate Food Editor Nicole Rufus will often substitute cacao for cocoa for Paleo friends. This is because cacao is Paleo, while cocoa is not. This has been a great idea, and she says that cacao gives her a deeper flavour. We don’t recommend swapping cacao powder for cocoa powder as it reacts differently to baking powder and other ingredients. If you want to make the best brownies, or the ultimate chocolaty cake, we recommend following the recipe exactly as written.
Cacao Nibs: A word about it
You might also find cacao powder in your grocery store’s baking section. Cacao nibs don’t have as much sweetness like chocolate, but they have a chocolatey taste. Cacao nibs are great for adding to oatmeal or granola, and they can also be used as baking ingredients — you can use them instead of chocolate chips, cookies, granola bars and many other treats.