There’s a lot of hype of around cacao lately and while it’s certainly better for you than a block of Cadburys, how does it compare to cocoa? And what exactly is it anyway? A superfood? A typo?? Don’t worry if you’re feeling a tad confused (and craving a chocky biscuit) because this week on the blog we’re cutting through the jargon and demystifying all things chocolate, cocoa and cacao!
Cacao refers to any of the products of the Amazonian Theobroma Cacao. This evergreen tree grows fruit pods which can be cracked upon to release cacao seeds. Here’s a quick summary of the choco-licious products you can make from the seeds of the Cacao tree:
Cacao is the raw form of the seeds from the cacao tree. It’s one of the richest sources of antioxidants out there, it’s high in magnesium, it’s the highest source of plant-based iron you can consume and it contains more calcium then cow’s milk. Cacao can also increase levels of phenylethylamine – a chemical released by the brain that promotes a feeling of well-being (it’s the same chemical that’s released when we experience feelings of romantic love).
Are cacao seeds chopped up into little pieces. Kind of like healthy chocolate chips.
Cacao peel is the sweet and fibre rich husk which encases the cacao seed.
Cacao butter comes from the outer lining of the inside of a cacao bean. It’s the fattiest part of the fruit, high in monounsaturated ‘good’ fats and has a taste and texture similar to white chocolate.
Cacao powder v. Cocoa powder:
While Cacao powder sounds and looks a lot like cocoa powder, it’s not the same thing. Raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans.
Cocoa on the other hand, is raw cacao that has been roasted at high temperatures. This destroys the living enzymes in the cacao. It’s lower in fibre, calories and antioxidants since less of the nutrients from the whole bean remain in tact. That being said, dark cocoa powder is still a good source vitamins, minerals, fibre, carbohydrates and protein. It’s just not quite as healthy as cacao, it’s less processed cousin!
Cut to the chase, which is better??
While cacao may trump cocoa in the health stakes, both cacao and dark cocoa powder are good for you! Cocoa powder is just a more processed version. Also, studies of cacao have tended to focus on the raw, unheated seeds. If you’re cooking with it then there’s not really evidence to suggest that it’s better than dark cocoa, as the main difference between them is that cacao powder is cold pressed.
Both cacao and dark cocoa are good for you, what really gives the humble cacoa bean a bad rep is combining it with other nasties. Chocolate usually contains cocoa powder mixed with sweetened milk solids and fats. While this makes it taste delicious, no points for guessing that it’s the least nutritious way to consume cacao! Dairy has been shown to inhibit the bodies absorption of the antioxidants, plus it’s packaged up with a big ol’ hit of sugar!
It’s better to consume cocoa or cacao without dairy. Try making a tea latte with a cacao / cocoa tea blend (like Red Velvet or Camden Coco) then and add a pinch of cacao powder or dark cocoa powder. Use almond milk or coconut milk instead of cow’s milk and sweeten your drink with raw honey. You’ve got yourself the best of both worlds: a creamy, chocolatey treat that’s packed full of health benefits!