Cacao vs Cocoa

Cacao beans must undergo several processes after harvesting before they are ready to be made into different products. After harvesting, the cacao beans are allowed to undergo a fermentation process. This process is necessary for the development of the colour and flavour of the cacao, as well as the bioactive compounds, including flavonoids and antioxidants. The cacao beans are then allowed to dry out thoroughly. Once the cacao beans have finished fermenting and drying, they are ready to be made into many products, such as cacao nibs, cacao paste, cacao butter and cacao powder.

An optional step is to heat treat the cacao beans, such as by roasting, to produce cocoa products. These products are no longer raw and the chemical composition can change during this process, often involving the loss of important bioactive compounds1,2. Roasting cacao is common when mass producing products like chocolate, cocoa powders for baking and instant hot chocolate powders. This is because roasting will hide imperfections and reduce variations in the flavour that is typical after natural fermentation processes. The end result is a batch of cocoa beans with a more consistent flavour but less nutritional benefits.

While raw cacao has many nutritional health benefits, cocoa-based products have less nutritional benefits as a result of heat treatment and are often mixed with other ingredients, such as a processed sugars, which can be damaging to your health when consumed in excess. These impacts include increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic syndromes3–5.

It is important to remember that many people use the terms “cocoa,” “cacao,” and “chocolate” interchangeably, which can be quite confusing. Raw cacao beans and other raw cacao products are also called “raw cocoa beans”. The word “cocoa” is also used as a name for drinking chocolate or the pre-made drinking chocolate powders that have other ingredients included, such as sugar, milk solids and preservatives. It is also common for people to refer to the traditional ceremonial cacao beverages, made from cacao paste, as “chocolate.” This is because the word “chocolate” is derived from the Aztec’s Nahuatl word, xocalatl,meaning “warm liquid,”derived from Mayan and Olmec languages6,7. Ceremonial cacao paste however is very different to cacao powder, cocoa powder and other more processed cacao products. It is the most pure form of cacao, derived from the whole bean, raw and unprocessed, made from the finest beans and pods. Learn more about ceremonial cacao here (link).

Learn About Cacao


(1) Oracz, J.; Zyzelewicz, D.; Nebesny, E. The Content of Polyphenolic Compounds in Cocoa Beans (Theobroma Cacao L.), Depending on Variety, Growing Region, and Processing Operations: A Review. Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr.2015, 55 (9), 1176–1192.

(2) McShea, A.; Ramiro-Puig, E.; Munro, S. B.; Casadesus, G.; Castell, M.; Smith, M. A. Clinical Benefit and Preservation of Flavonols in Dark Chocolate Manufacturing. Nutr. Rev.2008, 66 (11), 630–641.

(3) Hu, F. B. Resolved: There Is Sufficient Scientific Evidence That Decreasing Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Will Reduce the Prevalence of Obesity and Obesity-Related Diseases. Obes. Rev.2013, 14 (8), 606–619.

(4) Luger, M.; Lafontan, M.; Bes-Rastrollo, M.; Winzer, E.; Yumuk, V.; Farpour-Lambert, N. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children and Adults: A Systematic Review from 2013 to 2015 and a Comparison with Previous Studies. Obes. Facts2017, 10 (6), 674–693.

(5) Malik, V. S.; Pan, A.; Willett, W. C.; Hu, F. B. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children and Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Am. J. Clin. Nutr.2013, 98 (4), 1084–1102.

(6) Dillinger, T. L.; Barriga, P.; Escárcega, S.; Jimenez, M.; Lowe, D. S.; Grivetti, L. E. Food of the Gods: Cure for Humanity? A Cultural History of the Medicinal and Ritual Use of Chocolate. J. Nutr.2000, 130 (8), 2057S-2072S.

(7) Pohlan, H. A. J.; Pérez, V. D. GROWTH AND PRODUCTION OF CACAO. 10.