Cacao vs Cocoa – What’s the difference?

Cacao and CacaoCacao vs Cocoa is something that comes up a lot with my clients and for a good reason. Why should we spend more on Cacao when Cocoa is half the price? When it comes down to it, Cacao and Cocoa differ quite considerably and as you might have guessed, it’s all in the processing.

Cacao vs. Cocoa

Let’s start at the beginning. The Cacao Tree (Theobroma Cacao), produces cacao pods which are cracked open to release cacao beans. These beans can be processed in 1 of 3 ways:

  1. When these beans are chopped up into edible pieces, we get cacao nibs. 
  2. When the cacao beans are cold-pressed (by which the fat of the bean – cacao butter – is removed), raw cacao powder is born. 
  3. When the cacao bean is roasted at high temperatures and then pressed to remove the fat, the end result is of course, cocoa powder. 

The problems with processing

Whilst Cocoa may look like Cacao, unfortunately, roasting the bean at higher temperatures has been known to reduce the enzyme content and consequently, lowering the overall nutritional value of the final product.

If you’re looking for more nutritional bang for your buck, opt for organic raw cacao powder. 

What does cacao actually do for our health? 

  • High in Antioxidants: According to Naturopath Aimee Robins, raw cacao contains up to four times the antioxidants of cocoa, and has the highest antioxidant value of all the natural foods in the world.
  • Rich in Nutrients: Cacao also contains many nutrients such as magnesium, iron, zinc, copper and vitamin C
  • Beneficial effect on Blood Pressure: suggests that cacao has had a beneficial effect on blood pressure
  • Beneficial effect on Insulin Resistance: also suggests that cacao has had a beneficial effect on insulin resistance
  • May reduce Cardio Vascular Disease: Studies have also shown that that the regular consumption of cacao products, naturally high in flavanols, may reduce risk of cardio vascular disease. 
  • Mood Elevator: The same brain chemical that is released when we experience deep feelings of love – phenylethylamine – is found in chocolate (I knew there was a reason I loved it so much!) 

How much Cacao should I have? 

Research suggests limiting your cacao intake to 40g per day (around 4 heaped teaspoons) as the presence of Theobromine can interfere with the nervous system if consumed excessively, just like it’s sister molecule caffeine. Theobromine has approximately 1/4 of the stimulating power of caffeine. 

So, is chocolate good for our health? 

Well, kind of.

When we look at all the research that tells us that chocolate is good for our health, what they are referring to is the health benefits of the cacao bean. That’s right, it’s the cacao, not the refined chocolate that is providing us with all the good stuff.

When we debate whether or not chocolate is actually good for us, the problem lies with the additional ingredients that are added to your favourite block. When you add things like hydrogenated vegetable oils, processed dairy and refined sugars, the health benefits of cacao begin to be outweighed by the health effects of the above. When you purchase raw chocolate, rich in natural goodness without the additional nasties, yes a small serving of chocolate can be beneficial. 

An Interesting Fact about Cacao

Research suggests that mixing dairy with cacao can inhibit the absorption of all those incredible nutrients we spoke about earlier. Just another reason to skip the dairy milk blocks and make your own delicious nutrient rich chocolate at home. It’s also something you might want to keep in mind when making a cup of hot cacao chocolate – you might like to opt for coconut or nut milks instead. 

Cacao Recipes

For those of you who are looking to incorporate nutritious Cacao into your life (and some more chocolatey flavoured goodness), be sure to check out the following recipes: 

Do you use Cacao or Cocoa at home?


  1. Janine

    I buy the organic Cacao and been having hot chocolates with organic milk with a bit on honey and coconut sugar, now you have disappointed me. thought I was doing well even putting a teaspoon of coconut oil in the frother lol. Hot chocolate in the Nespresso, enjoying it better than coffee.

  2. Alyse

    Enjoying it more than coffee? I love it! Perhaps you can try it with a creamy almond milk or coconut milk instead? I make our hot cacao/chocolate with coconut milk – it’s delicious!

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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.