Cacao vs. cocoa

Whether as a creamy drink, a crunchy bar or drizzled on a treat, everyone knows that chocolate is delicious. The root of its delectable taste comes from its core ingredient, either cacao or cocoa.

While these super ingredients look similar, they have very different health properties, benefits, flavours, nutritional values and costs.

So, which should you choose for your sweet treats? Here are the differences and nutritional benefits of cacao and cocoa to help you decide.


Loved by health enthusiasts; cacao is a raw chocolate base that comes from cacao fruit tree beans. Also known as the Theobroma Cacao, the cacao fruit tree produces cacao pods that are full of cacao beans. When the pods crack open, the beans are released and used to produce various products.

Cacao butter is found in the outer lining of the inside of a cacao bean and is the fattiest part of the fruit. It tastes like white chocolate; is white in colour and has a smooth, butter-like texture. The butter is made from the bean, while the leftover fruit is used to make raw cacao powder.

As a relatively unprocessed product, raw cacao is known for its impressive cache of antioxidants and magnesium and has been used as part of health remedies for years. Cacao nibs, which look like chocolate chips and are crunchy, dried and fermented pieces of cacao beans, have become a popular healthy snack.


Cocoa is the heated form of cacao that you can buy at grocery stores. It is what is included in products used for baking, such as cocoa powder. Despite the heating process that turns cacao into cocoa, cocoa powder is still packed with antioxidants which benefit your skin, blood pressure and heart. It also has a minimal amount of fat, sugar, calories and oil. And, it’s the more affordable option.

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When choosing cocoa powder, buy plain cocoa powder to ensure that it doesn’t have added artificial flavours and ingredients. Dutch-processed cocoa powder (dark cocoa powder) would be your healthiest option.

How to use them

Both cacao and cocoa are excellent additions to a healthy diet. Here are ways you can use them to give yourself a delicious health boost.

  • Smoothies
    Raw cacao nibs make a great alternative to sugar-loaded chocolate. Add a heaped spoon of nibs to a fruit smoothie for a treat.
  • Baked goods
    Swap cocoa powder for cacao to keep your baked treats and desserts healthy. Cacao adds an intense chocolate flavour to favourites like brownies and cakes.
  • Ice-cream
    Make healthy homemade ice-cream by blending frozen bananas with some cacao or cocoa powder. It will create a creamy, delicious treat that’s packed with antioxidants, fibre and potassium.
  • Snack mix
    Add a handful of cacao nibs to dried fruit and nuts to make a nutritious, filling snack.