Cacao vs Cocoa

When the Spanish arrived and began to conquer the Americas, they had a lust for gold, land, and power. Something they didn't know they'd come to love so much was cacao. They gathered tons of cacao and shipped it back to Europe where eventually it would become what we know as chocolate. 

As the story goes.. The Spanish called the bean "cacao." They started shipping it back to Europe and on one of the ledgers for a shipment of cacao, someone accidentally wrote "cocoa." And, from that moment on, that random logistics guy, changed the world forever.

Now the accuracy of that story, who knows. But today we do use and accept cacao and cocoa to mean different things. So let's break it down a bit, what is the difference between cacao and cocoa. 


Cacao is the name of the actual fruit and tree which are called as the cacao pod and the cacao tree. The cacao pod is a football shaped fruit that comes in colors mainly of yellow, purple, red, green, and orange. Inside the fruit are about 40 seeds covered in pulp. The pulp tastes similar to lychee and is very nutritious as well! Our co-founder, Alissa, describes the flavor as real-life watermelon jolly rancher! 

The seeds are what we call cacao beans. They are fermented for a few days bringing out the chocolatey flavor we all know so well. Raw cacao beans are then typically roasted to kill any residual bacteria from the fermentation process.

After they are roasted they are turned into a few different things:

1. Cacao Nibs - typically for making chocolate and also for making chocolate stouts and porters.

2. Cacao Powder - typically an additive in other foods to give chocolate flavor.

3.  Cacao Brew - combination of nibs, husk, and powder to be brewed like coffee or tea.


After the roasting of the beans, the nibs and husk are separated through winnowing. The nibs are then taken and ground into powder. The powder is then taken and smashed. This smashing squeezes out the fat or cocoa butter. The powder is then processed with alkali to make it fine and more blend-able. This process leaves you with two products:

1. Cocoa Powder - cacao powder that has been stripped of its fat and then processed with alkali. This further processing makes it easier to blend into other products to add chocolate flavor. Due to further processing, many of the natural benefits of cacao are diminished to lower levels in this state

2. Cocoa Butter - this fat is used in chocolate making as well as beauty products for your skin 


The term "cocoa" typically means that the cacao has been further processed and has lost some of its health benefits. The term "cacao" typically means minimally processed and still contains its health benefits. 

For example, processed cacao has a score about of 27,000 on the ORAC antioxidant chart which is still more than tea, coffee, or berries. Whereas raw cacao scores in the 90,000s! Which is more than almost any food ever.

The words are often interchangeably used and there is the argument that they are the same thing. However, in accepted lexicon, cacao is understood as less processed and more raw, while cocoa is understood as more processed and less raw. 

So finding raw or minimally processed "cacao" is better to get the overall beneficial compounds found in cacao.

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