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Cacao vs. Cocoa? What's the Difference?

the difference between cacao powder and cocoa powder
Cacao? Cocoa? Isn’t it all just chocolate? Well, yes but not exactly.

What is the difference between cacao and cocoa, anyway? These two types of chocolate ingredients sound super similar and even come from the same plant, but are quite different in their taste, processing, and nutritional value.

Both cacao and cocoa come from the cacao plant (aka the mother of all chocolate) but it’s the way in which they are produced that drastically changes their compounds. If you’re chocolate lovers like us, you have certainly noticed all the different types of chocolate out there, specifically cocoa and cacao. A little confused? We’re here to help! Let’s break down the information and make it easy to understand how to spot the difference.

ripe bunch of cacao pods on tree
What is Cacao?

Cacao and cocoa begin their lives as the same plant, Theobroma cacao. All chocolate, in all its forms, comes from Theobroma cacao, which is native to South America (where Copina Co's Cacao comes from). The short answer about what distinguishes them is that cacao is processed with low heat and cocoa is processed with high heat. This process makes cacao the purest and most nutrient-dense form of chocolate you can consume containing over 300 different compounds that are essential to our overall health and well-being.*

How is Cacao Powder Made?

Cacao is created when the cacao beans are heated at a much lower temperature during the process of separating them from the rest of the bean. The result is cacao butter and cacao nibs.

The pods of the Theobroma tree are harvested and cracked open to release the cacao beans. These beans are then harvested and produced to make a few different types of food. What happens next is that the seeds are dried, fermented, and heated at a very low temperature to separate the butter from the rest of the bean.

The remaining parts of the fruit are used to make cacao powder. Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the bean. It’s white in color and has a super luxe and buttery taste similar to that of white chocolate.

It’s at this stage where either cacao nibs or cacao powder can be made. While cacao powder is fine, cacao nibs resembles chocolate chips but are far less processed and contain no added sugars like traditional chocolate chips. Cacao nibs are quite literally just the cacao beans. Instead of grinding them up to create a fine powder they are simply left in small chunks and are a great chocolate chip substitute when baking.

Cacao powder is the last stage of the cacao bean production process. It gets made when the bean and nibs are fully ground up and a fine and luscious powder is formed.

plant-based cacao and ashwagandha collagen booster powder
The Benefits of Cacao Powder

Cacao powder, in its purest form, contains more fiber and calories than cocoa powder because it does not contain any additives. Cacao is an excellent source of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and protein that make it a great source of nutrients.

Ever wonder why chocolate helps promote bliss? Cacao is a natural source of the chemicals phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide, an adrenal-related chemical that our bodies naturally create when we are feeling excited. This chemical also helps us to also feel alert and focused. Our Cacao Calm Plant-Based Collagen powder makes a great morning drink to help start your day on the right foot.

Cacao contains high amounts of antioxidants, particularly polyphenols, which have been linked to reducing inflammation and overall improved well-being.* It’s especially rich in flavanols which are said to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in our bodies.*

Cacao is higher in nutrients than regular cocoa because it is processed at a lower heat and does not experience as great a loss of nutrients. 

bowl of cocoa powder
What is Cocoa?

Cocoa is cacao beans that have been processed with high heat. This heating process typically destroys most nutritional value that the raw cacao had, including the antioxidant properties, but gives cocoa it’s slightly sweeter flavor. Further refining of cocoa is common. Things like the addition of stabilizers and preservatives, milk fat, and added sugar to give cocoa its “cocoa-ness”, but the result is a product that is pretty different from its original form. 

There have been numerous studies that boast the amazing benefits of snacking on chocolate every now and then, but they, unfortunately, aren’t referring to the average, store-bought chocolate bars many of us are familiar with.

vegan cacao collagen booster drink
Swap Cocoa Powder for Cacao Powder

Luckily, making the swap from cocoa powder to cacao powder is quite easy as they are interchangeable and pack similar tastes. Cacao powder works deliciously in baked goods, smoothies, and other sweet treats that could use a nutritional upgrade without forgoing any satisfying chocolate flavor. Expect a bolder, slightly bitter taste when using cacao powder instead of cocoa powder because of cacao powder’s purity. 

You can shop Cacao Calm Beauty, our plant-based collagen booster powder right here on our website. It’s a delicious and indulgent blend of organic cacao powder, ashwagandha, coconut, and collagen-boosting plant botanicals. This unique formulation of nourishing adaptogens and botanicals helps to promote collagen synthesis and encourage a sense of calm.* The best part is you get all the decadent flavor and amazing benefits of cacao powder plus some other superfood ingredients that help bring your baked good, smoothie, or sweet treat to the healthiest and tastiest level.

Our Favorite Ways to Use Cacao Calm

For a no-baked and vegan treat: Chocolate Peanut Butter Sea Salt Beauty Bites

A classic movie-time favorite with a sweet and salty upgrade: Chocolate Beauty Popcorn

A vegan and gluten-free snack, breakfast, or dessert: Chocolate Tahini Banana Muffins

A 5-minute no-bake treat: Vegan Chocolate Mug Cake


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