The Difference Between CACAO and COCOA Powder

The Difference Between CACAO and COCOA Powder

It’s TRUE!  There REALLY IS a difference between raw cacao powder and cocoa powder.  With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, be informed and educated what type of chocolate treat you want to purchase for your spouse, lover, friend, family or HECK, mostly yourself.  🙂  Years ago, before I took any care with my health, I used cocoa powder in all my baking recipes.  I didn’t know any better.  When my health took a nose dive (over three years ago) and I decided to do something about it, that’s when I changed my diet over to an all RAW, plant-based diet/lifestyle and learned about this mysterious, dark, seductive ingredient called raw cacao powder.  Were have you been all my life, gorgeous one! 

Most chocolate that is consumed is milk chocolate, high in sugar and low in cacao content. It is also made with dairy products, fillers and in some cases high fructose corn syrup. So it is fair to say that not all chocolate is created equally from a health benefit standpoint.

All chocolate is made from the cacao (cocoa) bean, and cacao beans in their natural, unprocessed, unadulterated state are rich in nutrients and beneficial to health.  Cacao powder is simply the cacao bean, that through a cold-pressing process, has had the fat (cacao butter) removed. With the fat removed, cacao powder becomes hydroscopic, so it dissolves easily in liquids. Cacao powder can be used to make chocolate by mixing it with cacao butter and sweetener.  (source)

What are the Benefits of Raw Cacao Powder?

Thanks to its high amounts of magnesium, antioxidants, and flavonols, raw cacao powder is considered to have many health benefits.  The powder is dark in color and rich in nutrients. The bitter taste of raw cacao powder is often mixed with carob or stevia, a natural sweetener, to make it more palatable.  I LOVE its rich, deep, bitter, earthy taste alone!

Cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids than any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and black and green teas. In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea.

The higher the percentage of cacao in the chocolate (in my opinion 70% and higher) is where you will see the most impact from the nutrients and anti-oxidants.    Often you will see packages labeled now with “% cacao.” What that refers to is the percentage of cacao bean solids present in the bar. There is an inverse relationship between the percentage of cacao in a bar and the amount of sugar.  So:

      • A 75% cacao bar has 25% sugar.
      • A 65% cacao bar has 35% sugar.
      • The higher the % cacao, the less sweet
         the bar and the stronger the
         chocolate taste. (source)

Cacao powder is the most versatile of the raw cacao products, because it is finely ground and ready to be added to smoothies, homemade energy bars, raw and baked bars, cookies, and other desserts. It blends well with water, nut and dairy milks.

These antioxidants and other properties may help to:

  • Support cardiovascular health and help to prevent atherosclerosis
  • Protect from free radicals and environmental toxins
  • Flavonols boost blood flow, lower blood pressure, and reduce anti-inflammatory responses
  • It elevates the mood by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain
  • Improve overall well being and energy levels
  • Acts as a catalyst (drives into tissues) ingredient to enhance medicinal properties and assimilation of herbs, super foods, etc. in tonics, teas and food.  OH YEAH!

For storage:  Keep in cool, dry conditions. 

Adverse reactions:  Raw cacao powder contains a small amount of caffeine and is considered a slight stimulant.  I can have raw cacao in small quantities and in moderation.  It does stimulate me ever so slightly, so I don’t drink hot tonics or eat treats made with it in the evening.  I’ll go weeks without having any and then use it a few days out of a week – whatever my body wants.  

Check out these recipes I have used it in:

SO MANY OPTIONS for it!  Be sure to purchase a quality, organic raw cacao powder.   Navitas Naturals is my favorite!

NOW, let’s look at regular cocoa powder. 

Some people don’t think there is a difference between the terms but I beg to differ.  The terms “processed” and “unprocessed” have two separate meanings.  Therefore, in my personal opinion, they are two separate entities when coming from a nutritional view point.

Broken down, cacao refers to either the tree, beans or pods of the cacao tree that are raw and unprocessed, while cocoa powder is the processed and refined version of the exact same plant. Though they are not the same, they are also not mutually exclusive, as cocoa powder cannot be made without cacao.

Cocoa powder is the de-fatted chocolate solids left after the cocoa butter is removed from the chocolate, creating a low-fat powdered product. There are two main types of cocoa powder: natural and Dutch process. Natural cocoa powder has a slightly reddish tint and is highly acidic. Dutch process cocoa powder has been treated with alkaline and has a darker brown color.

The main difference between the cacao and cocoa, once again, lies in their states. Cacao is unprocessed while cocoa is processed.  Cacao also has a better nutritional content compared to cocoa, but that’s only because most of the nutritional content disappears once cacao has undergone processing. 

You want to know how I am STILL using my old cocoa powder container?  As a DIY Dry Shampoo for Brunettes!   This recipe will sop up any excess scalp oil, and help keep you lookin’ fab and fresh on those days you need a quick hair pick-me-up and don’t have the time (or energy) for a full-on wash (which was for me on Saturday!) 🙂


Here are a few things to consider when you desire your next chocolate fix or you are buying your sweetheart (or yourself – I consider myself “my sweetheart”) chocolates for Valentine’s Day.

• The sweeter the chocolate, the less healthy it is. 🙁

• Darker and the less sweet the chocolate, the healthier it is. 🙂

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15 Responses »

  1. Wonderful, informative post, Kibby! This is fabulous timing too….I used cacao for the raw dessert in the vegan cooking class I did last week, and I had this panic that someone was going to ask me why I used cacao over cocoa. All I knew was that anything in it’s raw state was more beneficial, so I announced that before anyone had the chance to ask. But I left with the question still nagging me even though no one pressed me on it. This is exactly the kind of information I was looking for! : )

    • Thanks, Raechel! I read your post about the cooking class and CHEERS that it went so well and it looked like you had a GREAT turn out! Great seeing pictures of you – you are so gorgeous and love your tats! I’m going to try your raw dessert you posted that you served at class – sounds yummy!! I’ll be sharing this same info. with my class in a few weeks with the dessert I’m offering. 🙂

    • Hi Torrie! So glad you can use as a reference. Thank you! I will be using the same info. in my upcoming healthy cooking class next weekend. Thanks for the comment. Keep them coming. 🙂

      • Hi, you might want to take another look at Navitas cacao powder, I just discovered that it is lighter in color compared to other cacao powders I have bought. My understanding is the real cacao powder is just a little bit darker in color. Although I couldn’t tell if their was any difference in bitterness.


        • I did a little more digging on cacao powder and found out at “Consumer Labs” that this product and many others are not healthy for you eventhough they claim to be and or say they are organic, they contain high levels of cadmium and or lead. *Fair Trade (non-alkalized) ORGANIC cocoa powder, Frontier is the only brand so far that I have found that lables their product as *Fair Trade . Over the past few years I have been working on providing my husband and I with the healthiest foods, since we were both starting to have health issues. I do not believe in drugs as an alternative. A hard fact that I have learned is that, just because something is labled “organic” does not mean anything to me anymore. It’s just a ploy in order for the consumer to buy the product.

          I never had any problems consuming wheat products as a child up until my late 40’s. For many years now I have been unable to eat wheat, due to acid reflux, constipation, etc… Recently I learned that wheat farmers use “Roundup” right before harvesting the grain, in turn this one of the major causes on gastrointestinal problems in the US today, its not the gluten, go figure.

          Have a great day!


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  5. Hi Kibby: Great, informative article. I’m inclined to go with cacao but just wanted to check. Do you know Chatfield’s “Al natural” unsweetened cocoa powder? Is it really much less healthy than cacao?


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