The difference between cacao, cocoa, and chocolate: a cocoa bean’s journey

Cacao, cocoa, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cacao powder… with such similar spellings it can be easy to lose track of what you are buying! The good news is they all come from one magical plant, and we are going to break down the cocoa nut’s journey to help you distinguish between the everyday products you often see.

Growing primarily in South America, the cocoa drupe (fruit) is harvested from a jungle tree. The tree’s botanical name, thebroma cacao, is derived from greek and translates to “food of the gods”. These fruits and their seeds (which we call cocoa beans) can be processed to create many products that are commonly found on ingredients panels on food labels: cacao, cocoa, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and chocolate are some of the most common forms you will find.

Each form is simply a step in the journey of the cocoa bean's processing-- so let's find out the differences!

What is Cacao?

The first step in the cocoa bean's journey, cacao is the purest and most natural form of the cocoa bean available in stores. Most commonly available in a powdered form, cacao is minimally processed and typically additive-free.

Raw cacao products are made from fermented, dried, (unroasted) cacao beans that have been cold-pressed. The low-heat pressing necessarily removes any bacteria and fat (cacao butter) while preserving beans the natural enzymes and nutritional value. This provides the maximum health benefit that can be ingested.

Raw cacao butter is also rendered during this process, similarly to how olive oil can be cold-pressed from olives.

Cocoa powder and cocoa butter

Cocoa is a term that people are typically much more familiar with. Whether it's a packet of powdered 'hot cocoa' or a cocoa butter based skin moisturizer, cocoa products can be found on various store shelves across the country.

Cocoa (powder) and cocoa butter are created from cacao beans that have been processed with high heat before pressing, which destroys some of the nutritional value of cacao. Cocoa powders found in stores often also have added sugars making them sweeter (and less bitter than cacao).

While both the cocoa and cacao can be used interchangeably in most recipes, you will often find that cacao has higher nutritional value, and a slightly higher cost. The process of using cold extraction methods is more difficult and is typically more costly to the producer than the high-heat methods.

When cacao becomes chocolate

So you are probably beginning to see that “chocolate” as we know it comes even further into the cocoa bean’s journey. Chocolate is derived from beans that have been fermented, dried, roasted with high heat, before being ground/pressed. The resulting cocoa solids and cocoa butter are then combined into a thick paste called chocolate liquor. You can think of chocolate liquor as a bar of unsweetened baking chocolate. At this point, it is still vegan and free of additives.

The final steps in chocolate-making include adding other ingredients like dairy, honey, sugar, gelatins, and lecithins that give us the sweet dark chocolates, milk chocolates, and white chocolates we find so nicely wrapped on store shelves.

Who knew there were so many steps in creating such an everyday treat!

fall keto bites

Pantry’s Cacao Keto Bites

Pantry’s cacao keto bites are always made using only a few simple ingredients: cacao, cocoa butter, and a trace amount of slow-absorbed coconut sugar for sweetness that won’t cause a large spike in blood sugar levels. Talk about carefully curated!

Since it is made from cocoa-based ingredients, these small bites are always higher than 95% ultra-dark chocolate by weight, without the addition of milk, lecithins, or other additives.

Want to learn more about the benefits of cacao? Check back soon for our next blog on the benefits of cacao!

Just for fun… 

Wondering how white chocolate works? The cocoa solids are removed and the cocoa butter is used with added sugar, milk, and additional flavorings. This removes the dark color (and nutritional value) of the cacao from the equation!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published