What's The Difference Between Cocoa And Cacao?

Humans have been consuming chocolate products for centuries. In certain products, cacao is listed as the ingredient that gives something its chocolatey flavor. But most people tend to be more familiar with cocoa, which is listed in the ingredients for everything from chocolate bars to baked goods. Because the use of the terms cacao and cocoa is not consistent or regulated, there's a lot of confusion about the difference between the two.

Cacao is the dried and fermented seed of the Theobroma cacao tree (via Antioxidants & Redox Signaling). One of the earliest known examples of using beans from the cacao tree was in 460 AD, and indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica used the beans from the tree for medicinal purposes, like relieving constipation, for its stimulant effects, and to help people gain weight. When cacao beans are dried, roasted, and ground up, a paste called cocoa liquor forms. This liquor contains both cocoa butter and cocoa solids. When you see "percent cacao" on a chocolate bar, it's referring to the amount of cocoa liquor the product contains.

Darker chocolate for a healthier heart?

Removing the cocoa butter from the liquor is how cocoa powder is made. And to make chocolate, all that's needed is cocoa liquor, sugar, and cocoa butter. The more liquor in the chocolate, the darker the chocolate. White chocolate does not contain any liquor — only cocoa butter combined with other ingredients.

Products that contain cacao are generally high in important minerals like magnesium and iron, as well as flavanols, which have antioxidants that may help protect your cells from cancer (via Healthline). Dark chocolates generally have as much as five times the amount of flavanol as milk chocolate.

So while there may be confusion over the use of the terms cacao and cocoa, it's helpful to remember to look for the percent of cocoa liquor in the product to determine the amount of heart-healthy flavanols it contains. The higher the percent, the more flavanols you'll get. Chocolate with lower percentages of cocoa liquor not only has fewer beneficial ingredients, but it may also contain more sugar and fats than darker chocolate. By choosing chocolate with 70 percent or higher cocoa liquor, you'll not only be enjoying a treat for your taste buds, but your heart will thank you as well.