The popularity of chocolate making at my retreats and offering a chocolate making course and kit means that I often get asked about the difference between cacao and cocoa.
The simple answer is that cacao and cocoa are the same word in different languages. But the way the terms are used within the food and health industries can be quite different, and confusing, so I’ll share what I have learned.
The botanical name for the tree that chocolate comes from is Theobroma Cacao. The plant is native to South America and cacao or cocoa beans are the seeds of the plant from which the cacao solids and butter (fat) are extracted.
Cacao is full of mineral and antioxidant micronutrients – it’s the presence of these that cause dark chocolate to taste bitter. Before it is harvested and fermented it is said that cacao tastes incredibly acidic and bitter.
The processes used to make cacao butter and powder are: fermentation, drying and roasting. You often read that the better quality products are not roasted at high temperatures, although there is some debate around this. Within the health food market, the term cacao is broadly used to refer to products from smaller cacao plantations that aim to keep the processing to a minimum so that the enzymes containing the nutrients remain intact. That said, it is always worth reading labels and researching products to make sure they can uphold the claims they make.
Why choosing quality cacao products is important:
- Choosing companies who work with small suppliers and cooperatives helps to ensure that the manufacturing process remains sustainable, and that farmers are paid fairly.
- It’s likely that there are more nutrients available in better quality products because of the way they are farmed and processed. The powder and butter both contain a range of nutrients and cacao is said to be anti-inflammatory and beneficial to cardiovascular health, (if you want to read more on this I have noted an article below).
- The fermentation process will be focused on flavour development. The fermentation process is also said be good for gut bacteria, possibly having a pre-biotic effect.
Cacao is inherently healthy, but the processes it undergoes and the ingredients added are often not. Mass-produced chocolate products from big brands like Cadburys tend to contain other ingredients like refined sugars, dairy and other additives. They also tend to obtain their ingredients from bigger suppliers who don’t have the same attention to detail in the production process.
Taking great quality ingredients and creating your own chocolates is not only creative but it also ensures that you know exactly what goes into your chocolates, that the producers are being paid fairly for their work and that you’re eating a chocolate that truly has health benefits.
If you are buying chocolate products off the shelf, go for higher percentage cocoa solids and look out for ‘single origin’ and smaller brands that you have researched beforehand.
So there you have it, evidence that chocolate really can be good for you. What more encouragement do you need?!
If you’d like to have a go at creating your own delicious and nutritious chocolates, check out my chocolate making course and kit which contains top quality ingredients and my fail safe recipe. And because you’ve taken the time to read this all the way to the end, here is a gift of £5 off for you. Use: chocfriends20 before 20/12/20 at the checkout.
Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease. David L.Katz, corresponding author Kim Doughty, and Ather Ali