Cacao vs Cocoa: What’s the Difference
If you buy chocolate products often, you may have noticed that some of the packages use the word “cacao,” while other packages use the word “cocoa”. If you usually use cocoa-based health or beauty products, you may have noticed that some have phrases like “raw cacao powder” among the ingredients. Or “made from cacao nibs” written on some health products. If you have never paid attention to this difference before, you probably will have your eyes wide open the next time you are shopping for cocoa or cacao products. If you have noticed this difference in spelling, you may have wondered if the two words carry different meanings. In some instances, the choice of words indicates important differences; in other instances, companies or marketers go with the words easy to understand. How does cacao differ from cocoa? Let us find out together. And perhaps, reading this article may go very well with a bar of chocolate or a mug of hot chocolate drink, don’t you think?
What Is Cacao?
Let’s begin with chocolate. Chocolate is made from cacao seeds or cocoa beans. Cacao is a large pod-like fruit from the cacao plant that grows in the tropics. It is popularly grown in places like South America and West Africa. Cacao beans or cacao seeds specifically refer to the natural seeds of the cacao plant. The beans are the main ingredient in chocolate products like chocolate candy bars and cocoa powder. Thus, for most people, the term cacao refers specifically to the natural produce of the cacao plan – whether the pod or the natural beans. It is important to state at this point that there is no official agreement on when to use either cacao or cocoa. But, as indicated earlier, most people choose to use cacao to refer to the plant, the fruit, and the raw, unprocessed seeds. Thus, for chocolate makers, as long as the beans have not been crushed, dried, roasted, or fermented, they are called cacao. As soon as they are processed, they become cocoa. However, there are some people who chose to use cocoa to refer to all the above.
What Is Cocoa?
The word coca is mostly used to refer to the raw cacao beans that have been processed. That is, when the seeds are roasted, crushed, or fermented, they become cocoa. The processing of cacao leads to the making of cocoa powder or other forms of processed cacao. Simple, isn’t it? Therefore, according to this definition, every processed end product from the cacao plant and cacao beans is called a cocoa product. Thus, the ‘correct’ term, for example, should be cocoa butter and not cacao butter. Or cacao beans and not cocoa beans. To repeat, this distinction is not universally accepted. In some countries, the terms cocoa and cacao overlap. In other countries, either cocoa or cacao is used to refer to the plant and its produce, processed or unprocessed.
From Cacao To Cocoa: How The Cocoa Beans Are Processed
In order to explain the difference better, a quick look at how cacao beans are processed will help. If you love chocolate, but you have not had the opportunity to taste the cacao beans, you will be forgiven to think that the cacao pod or beans taste anything close to chocolate. The harvested cacao beans are taken through several stages of processing before we have the yummy chocolate in our homes.
- The Fermenting Stage: This is the first stage after harvesting. Here, the cacao beans are loaded into bins and covered for days. During this time, microbes cause the beans to ferment. This is when that lovely chocolate aroma and flavor is first developed.
- The Drying Stage: After the beans have been fermented, they are spread out on a flat surface to dry out. Once the beans dry out, they are sorted and ready to be sold to chocolate makers.
- The Roasting Stage: The dry beans are taken to chocolate factories where they are roasted. This stage is skipped if the raw cacao beans are required for the final product. Roasting the beans further brings out the chocolate flavor. This stage also begins to give the beans the sweetness they need.
- The Crushing Stage: During this stage, the beans are crushed. Cacao beans have outer hulls. The crushing process helps to separate the beans from their outer hulls. The broken cacao pieces at this stage are called cacao nibs.
- The Grinding Stage: This is the final of the five stages. Here the cacao nibs are ground. This process produces some form of liquor which contains no alcohol. This liquor is then made into various chocolate products.
At the final stage, the liquor which is produced is half made up of fat to give it the form of butter. The butter is then pressed to help remove most of the fat from it. Extra ingredients are added to give it the required chocolate taste. Such ingredients include sugar, milk, vanilla, and, in some cases, more cocoa butter.
Comparing the Nutrients
Both cacao and cocoa are rich in fat, saturated fat, calories, carbohydrates, protein, iron, fiber, and added sugar. The only difference is that cacao nibs contain higher amounts of nutrients than processed cocoa. Both also contain minerals like manganese, magnesium, selenium, and chromium. They also contain antioxidants. Again, the only difference is that natural cacao beans contain more nutrients and minerals than processed cocoa. That is to say, the darker the chocolate (higher content of cacao)looks, the more nutritious it is.
There you have it. The difference between cacao and cocoa lies in terminologies. There is no single term accepted internationally. In some places, the words are used interchangeably. In other places, one term is chosen over the other one. In West Africa, for example, the term cocoa is used to refer to the plant, the fruit, the beans, and the product. Among chocolate makers, cacao is distinguished from cocoa. Cacao is the raw plant and fruit; cocoa is the processed one.