Cacao vs. Cocoa: Which Is Better?

Cacao and cocoa are two names you hear thrown around in health food circles, but what’s the difference between cacao and cocoa? And which one is better? The answer to these questions depends on the form they come in, whether they’re sweetened or unsweetened, how much processing has been done to them, and how much sugar has been added. Here’s everything you need to know about cacao vs cocoa—and which one you should be eating more of!

What Is Cacao?

Like most foods, cocoa has nutritional value and its health benefits have been widely researched. However, it’s important to understand that cocoa and cacao are not interchangeable—and if you want all of the cacao’s benefits, then it’s vital that you know how to make a distinction between these two types of chocolate. First, let’s take a look at what exactly makes up each substance. 

Cacao is made from raw cocoa beans that haven’t undergone any roasting or processing. This means they contain high levels of antioxidants called flavonoids (which can lower blood pressure and cholesterol), iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and potassium. Cacao also contains phenylethylamine (PEA), an amphetamine-like compound known for making us feel happy when we eat it. These compounds are considered good fats because they can improve our heart health by lowering bad cholesterol levels while raising good cholesterol levels in our bloodstream. In fact, according to research done by The Hershey Company, eating dark chocolate with 70% cacao content reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol by as much as 10%. And don’t worry about consuming too much sugar; cacao doesn’t raise your blood sugar levels. In fact, studies show that eating dark chocolate actually helps balance out your glucose levels!

Health Benefits Of Cacao

Cacao is a rich source of antioxidants, as well as minerals like magnesium and iron. It also contains protein, fiber, and other nutrients that promote heart health. Some studies have shown that cacao can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while others have linked it to improved brain function. 

The health benefits of cacao are largely due to its flavonoids—natural compounds found in plants that help fight disease and keep our bodies healthy. The higher concentration of flavonoids in raw cacao means you’ll get more nutritional value from eating it than you would if you consumed cocoa powder or chocolate instead. And cacao can be a great addition to your diet even if you don’t have any specific health concerns; most people enjoy it for its taste alone! Plus, compared with other sweeteners like white sugar and corn syrup, it has far fewer calories per serving. That makes cacao a smart choice for diabetics and anyone trying to lose weight or maintain their current weight without sacrificing flavor. 

So, how much cacao should you eat? As long as you stick to reasonable portion size (the amount recommended on food labels), there’s no reason not to include it in your daily diet. Most adults should aim for at least 2 tablespoons (20 grams) of unsweetened cacao every day. But remember that there are many ways to add some cacao into your routine; just make sure it doesn’t come with added sugar or other unhealthy ingredients.

The Nutritional Value Of Cacao And Cocoa

Cacao and cocoa are both derived from the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao. Cacao is the purest form of chocolate and is less processed than cocoa. Cocoa is a more processed form of chocolate that is high in sugar and often contains additives.

Cacao and cocoa have similar nutritional profiles, but cacao is superior in terms of antioxidants. Cacao also contains more magnesium, potassium, and zinc than cocoa. Cocoa is high in saturated fat and can contain up to 40% sugar. Cacao is a healthier option for those looking for a chocolate fix.

Per 100 gCacaoCocoa
Calories465 g228 g
Total Fat35 g14 g
Sodium395 mg21 mg
Potassium302 mg1524 mg
Total Carbohydrate37 g58 g
Protein12 g20 g
Iron4.2 mg14 mg

Pros And Cons Of Cacao

The nutritional value of cacao and the health benefits of cacao make it a great way to start your day, while it’s also shown to reduce stress and improve mood. Cacao powder is naturally lower in sugar than cocoa, making it a better choice for those following a low-carb diet. However, using chocolate means more calories, because most types of cocoa contain a higher percentage of fat—and therefore more calories—than cacao powder does. The taste difference between cacao and cocoa powders isn’t huge; however, many people claim that cacao has a bitter taste. You can adjust for that by adding another ingredient to your mixture or by changing how much cacao you use in relation to cocoa. Overall, both cacao and cocoa are good choices if you want to add chocolate flavor to your food. But if weight loss is a goal, then consider replacing cocoa with cacao.

Which Is More Sustainable, Cacao Or Cocoa?

The cocoa and cacao debate is one that has been around for a while. One main difference between the two is that cacao is unprocessed, while cocoa is processed. The process of making cocoa removes many of the nutrients and antioxidants that are found in cacao.

Cacao also has a higher fiber content than cocoa. Cocoa is also high in sugar, while cacao is not. Cacao contains flavonols, which are antioxidants that help protect the body against disease. Cocoa does not contain these antioxidants.

Cacao is a more sustainable crop because it can be grown in areas with poor soil and little rainfall. This means that it requires less investment in agriculture, provides employment for many people, and has a less negative impact on our environment.

Should You Use Cacao Or Cocoa?

It’s hard to imagine chocolate without its namesake ingredient—cocoa. But in truth, cocoa itself isn’t what provides chocolate with most of its flavor and health benefits. Rather, it’s a substance that comes from cacao—the dried, ground-up pulp of ripe cacao beans. Though we tend to use cocoa and cacao interchangeably (and many products marketed as chocolate contain both), cocoa powder can actually be quite different from cacao. And while we often hear about all kinds of health benefits related to cocoa, these usually come from eating its main ingredient—not necessarily by chewing on some raw cacao nibs straight out of their husks.

Bottom Line

This might seem like a small difference between two similar products, but it’s actually a big deal. Cacao has more than double the antioxidants of cocoa and can also help improve your blood pressure, so be sure to look for products labeled cacao when shopping. If you’re unsure, contact your local grocer to find out whether your chocolate treat is rich in antioxidants or loaded with sugar.


Frederik Lamote

Frederik is the founder of, a startup that is 3D printing Treehouses. While exploring treehouse locations around the world he got fascinated by the value and products trees produce.

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