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Raw cacao vs cocoa: what’s the difference?


Blog Posts - cacao
Photo by: Image via Thinkstock

You guys have been asking the question, so we thought we’d clear a few things up for you.

Is there a difference between the two aside from a few vowels?

The studies that boast of chocolate’s amazing health benefits are not referring to your average store-bought chocolate bar (damn misleading researchers). The chocolate that they’re referring to is raw cacao.

Raw cacao is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cocoa and removes the fat (cacao butter).

Cocoa looks the same but it’s not. Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures. Sadly, roasting changes the molecular structure of the cocoa bean, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value.

What are the health benefits of raw cacao?

  • Lowers insulin resistance.
  • Protects your nervous system: Cacao is high in resveratrol, a potent antioxidant also found in red wine, known for its ability to cross your blood-brain barrier to help protect your nervous system.
  • Shields nerve cells from damage.
  • Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Reduces your risk of stroke.
  • Reduces blood pressure.
  • Slows the ageing process by assisting with nitric oxide metabolism: Nitric oxide protects your heart by relaxing your blood vessels and thereby lowering your blood pressure. However, nitric oxide production produces adverse reactions and toxic metabolites, which must be neutralised by your body so they don’t result in oxidative damage to your blood vessel lining. Cocoa polyphenols protect your body from these metabolites and help counter the typical age-related decline in nitric oxide production.
  • Guards against toxins: as a potent antioxidant, cacao can repair the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the risk of certain cancers. In fact cacao contains far more antioxidants per 100g than acai, goji berries and blueberries. Antioxidants are responsible for 10% of the weight of raw cacao.
  • Boosts your mood: cocoa can increase levels of certain neurotransmitters that promote a sense of well-being. And the same brain chemical that is released when we experience deep feelings of love – phenylethylamine – is found in chocolate.
  • It is rich in minerals: magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese.

If cacao is more beneficial than cocoa because it’s raw, what happens when we cook it?

Very good question, and we’re glad you asked… unfortunately there is no science on whether or not heating raw cacao destroys its antioxidant level making it more akin to its heated and processed cousin cocoa. BUT we figure if you start off with the product in its raw form, it has to be more beneficial than starting with an already heated and processed equivalent.

Let’s end with an interesting tid-bit…

Research shows that dairy inhibits the absorption of antioxidants from raw cacao.

So if you’re making a cacao shake you’re better off using a non-dairy milk like almond or coconut in order to reap all of the antioxidant benefits. Fact!

Keen to introduce more cacao into your kitchen repertoire? Check out our Chocolate Cookbook for some delicious chocolate treats and some recipes that are so good for you they can be eaten for breakfast! Speaking of dessert for breakfast have you seen what our nutritionist Kate eats most mornings?

What’s your favourite use for raw cacao? 

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