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The Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa

Let’s flashback to 5 years ago: my husband and I were living in Cleveland and I was attempting the Paleo diet for the first time. I received some Paleo “granola” and one of the ingredients was cacao. I paid no attention to the spelling and assumed it was cocoa (ko-ko). My husband pronounced it ka-cow and I laughed in his face! I loved that he was wrong because it so rarely happens (that is hard for me to admit). I seriously relished in this moment until he pointed out that he was actually right and I had just never ever heard of cacao. Ugh. Right again!

So, in case you’re like me, yes, cacao and cocoa are two different things. Confusing, right? Let’s talk about the differences:


First of all, cocoa and cacao come from the same tree so they start the same way. These trees grow pods on them and inside the pods are cacao beans. The difference comes in the way they are processed after being plucked from the pod.

Cocoa is what you grew up drinking during wintertime and what you (probably) bake with. Cocoa powder is made from extracting cacao from the cacao pods on the tree and processing it at a very high temperature. Because of the high temperatures it’s exposed to, cocoa powder loses some of the nutrientsĀ it would otherwise have in its’ raw form.

Cocoa powder is by no means unhealthy for you unless you’re buying a sweetened version. If you’re looking for the healthiest option though, raw cacao powder may be the way to go.


Cacao is the raw, relatively unprocessed form of the cacao bean. Whether you’re using cacao powder or nibs, both are high in antioxidants, fiber, healthy fats, and protein.

cacao nibs

cacao nibs


I bought Viva Labs Organic Cacao Nibsfrom Amazon. They were highly reviewed and a good price.

Besides the fact that cacao packs a nutritious punch, there are claims it does a million other things like reduces blood pressure, reduces stroke risk, boosts mood, is the fountain of youth, etc. You get the point. I don’t know about all those claims-they may or may not be true. But I do know it has lots of great fiber, good fats, and protein.

Raw cacao is definitely more expensive than cocoa powder, but you get more of a nutritious bang for your buck.

Cacao powder or nibs can be used however you would use cocoa powder or chocolate chips. Keep in mind though chocolate chips have added sugar, cacao nibs do not. They are not sweet. I would describe them as bitter? Which makes them sound terrible but they’re not I swear. Are chocolate chips better tasting? Yes, of course. Not gonna lie. But then of course you get a ton of added sugar…

I’ve never used cacao powder only the nibs. I like the nibs because they’re a great way to add a little crunch to an otherwise crunch-less dish. I typically put them in smoothies or sprinkle over fruit at night for dessert. They would also be great in oatmeal or in baked goods you were trying to healthify a little bit.


Ignore the close up of the date. Dates and peanut butter and amazing by the way. So are cacao nibs on top of smoothies!


Have you tried cacao? Thoughts?

8 comments to The Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa

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