Cocoa vs Cacao

All chocolate is not created equal

By Mayra Muñoz

Vegan Chocolate | Photo by Mayra Muñoz

Vegan Chocolate | Photo by Mayra Muñoz

My whole life I grew up knowing about cocoa powder, because that's just what you used to make chocolate-baked goods – and I love my chocolate! Then on instagram and in youtube videos I heard people talking about cacao. I always found it really funny, and thought it was the same thing as cocoa, but just pronounced incorrectly. Then I tripped out and thought: what if I'm the one mispronouncing it? I recently did a bunch of research on these two, and found tons of amazing things about them. It turns out they are similar but different. 
 
Theobroma Cacao, or cacao trees, produce fruit, and the fermented seeds from these fruits are what we know as cocoa/cacao beans. It grows in Central America and parts of Mexico. It also grows in the Andes in the Amazon as well as in Colombia and Venezuela, though today nearly 70% of the world’s cacao crop is grown in West Africa.

Hot Cocoa | Photo by Mayra Muñoz

Hot Cocoa | Photo by Mayra Muñoz

Cocoa powder is easy to find in the baking aisle at most supermarkets or convenience stores. It comes from the cocoa bean and is processed with an alkalized chemical solution at a high heat temperature lowering or decreasing its natural antioxidants and nutrients. It has a lot of sugar added to it as well during this process. Although it is great for baking, it is harder to find a more natural cocoa powder. And, if you have any allergies to dairy, you have to be extremely careful because most of the time it is cross-contaminated with milk. If you don't have this issue bake all you want!
 
Having learned this, my old love cocoa powder had to be traded in. So let me introduce to you the replacement: cacao!
 
Cacao is the most natural chocolate that you will find and you can now find cacao nibs at grocery stores and supermarkets. Cacao nibs are cocoa beans that have been chopped up into little pieces – just like chocolate chips. Because of its minimal processing, it keeps all the natural nutrients, antioxidants, fibre and healthy fats. Actually, it has the highest source of antioxidants and magnesium of all foods! It is also high in calcium, copper, iron, potassium and zinc. It's known to boost your immune system, put you in a better mood, and lower your blood pressure by protecting your heart and regulating insulin levels. 

Toasted Cacao Beans | Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia

Toasted Cacao Beans | Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia

I've been using a lot of cacao nibs to add that chocolate flavour to my oatmeal, coffee and shakes. I personally like to buy the organic kind, and most of the time it isn't cross-contaminated with milk. The brand I am enjoying right now is “Organic Traditions' Cacao Nibs”. Healthy Planet, Loblaws, Noah's  and now even Shopper's Drug Mart all carry this great product. Although it is a bit more bitter than the milk-chocolate I used to eat, it is definitely growing on me. I've also found myself baking with it a lot more than the cocoa powder. 
 
If you haven't already been eating cacao or including it in your foods, definitely look into it – you won't regret it! I'm glad the Mayans discovered this amazing superfood more than 5000 years ago, I just can't believe I only discovered it now.