Cacao and Cocoa are commonly confused. Despite both deriving from the same plant, Cacao has a number of unique properties that make it one of the most powerful superfoods in the world.
The major differences stem from the way these ingredients are processed – Cacao is the purest and most raw form of the ingredient you can find, while cocoa, cocoa powder or chocolate undergo various methods of treatment that reduce they’re health capability.
1. Cacao originated in Central and South America
The Cacao tree originates from tropical regions of Central and South America. Today, you can find this plant in agricultural areas across many regions of the globe, with 70 per cent of Cacao now grown in West Africa. This has largely been to meet the demand from global markets for chocolate over the last century.
2. Cacao is processed differently to cocoa
Cacao and cocoa are both harvested from the Cacao tree seed pods. Cocoa then undergoes a significantly greater amount of processing that could involve extreme temperatures, chemical solutions and the addition of sugar, fructose, syrup and dairy products.
Cacao on the other hand usually goes through a drying and fermentation process and not much else – leaving the ingredient in a relatively undisturbed way.
3. Cacao contains high levels of nutritional properties
As a result of its moderate processing, Cacao is able to retain all the natural nutrients and beneficial healthy properties of the raw bean. When found in its purest form, it contains high levels of ingredients such as magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc and copper.
4. Cacao is not chocolate
We all know (and probably love) chocolate. But the two are not the same thing. The chocolate that people regularly consume from supermarkets and grocery shops across the world have similar properties to Cacao, but truly pale in comparison at offering the various health benefits that are associated with Cacao.
A general rule is that the darker and more unrefined the type of Chocolate you can find, the more chance it will contain some of the amazing natural benefits of Cacao bean.
5. Cacao is full of antioxidants
Cacao’s antioxidant levels are off the chart. It is actually one of the most powerful superfoods in the world due to the high quantity of antioxidants that it contains – even greater than fruits and berries like blueberries that are famous for high antioxidant value.
Cacao nibs are one of the best ways to consume Cacao, and can be used in much the same way that chocolate chips are implemented into various baking recipes. They are basically Cacao beans chopped up into small pieces and contain no additives – but watch out for the bitterness! When eaten raw they have a distinctive potency of flavor compared to the more subtle chocolate chip.
Cacao can also be found in powder form and makes a great addition to cereals or smoothies. If you fancy a healthy hot chocolate alternative, you can simply mix in some Cacao powder with your milk or soya substitute and stick your cup in the microwave – delicious!
The last thing to remember is that you should try your best to source your product from a reliable health food store or online supplier to make sure you are getting the most pure and raw form of the ingredient.