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What’s The Difference Between Cacao VS Cocoa? Which Is Healthier?
Everybody loves chocolate, and most people have at least a vague understanding of where chocolate comes from: the famous cacao beans grown in tropical climes all over the world. But what is cacao, and how is it different from the cocoa most of us are more familiar with? Let’s explore the differences and health benefits of these two delicious and nutritious ingredients.
Tracing cacao and cocoa back to their roots
Both of these common ingredients share the same origin which is the theombra cacao tree which is native to South America. Introduced to the rest of the world via the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the product we recognize today as chocolate is derived from the cacao beans which grow inside the theombra cacao tree’s seed pods. These seeds have a similar appearance to coffee beans and can be eaten raw, although they have a rather bitter taste when eaten this way.
These beans are ground up and used to produce either caocao or cocoa. What distinguishes the two are how the beans are processed. Cacoa is the closest you can come to raw cacoa beans in their raw, unadulterated form. In this process, the beans are either sun dried or fermented. This allows a maximum amount of the antioxidants and other beneficial compounds to remain intact.
Cacao can be sold in powered form, or in solid chucks. It can also be blended with cacao butter, which is made from the white, pasty, fatty component of the cacao tree’s fruit.
With cocoa, the beans are roasted, and as such, heated to a much higher temperature, which will change the molecular structure of the beans. This will result in a sweeter taste, but will also degrade the nutrients to some degree, so cocoa is somewhat less healthy than cacao. This is what is used to produce the majority of chocolate products.
In many recipes, cacao powder and cocoa powder can be used interchangeably, although this will result in a slightly different taste.
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What are the health benefits of cacao and cocoa?
Studies have shown that cacao can:
- Reduce cellular damage
- Lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease
- Protect against oxidative stress. Antioxidant compounds make up some 10 percent of the mass of raw cacao
- Improve your mood via the beneficial neurotransmitters it contains, which help bring about a general feeling of wellbeing
- Cacao also contains minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron, potassium and more.
It is important to remember that cocoa will have these benefits too, although to a lesser degree, and since products with chocolate often contain lots of added sugar, the nutritional pros may not necessarily outweigh the cons.