Cacao vs Cocoa

When training many topics of conversation arise and recently I keep getting asked if there is a difference between cacao, cacao nibs and cocoa. I didn't know the exact answer so I spent a few hours scouring the internet so next time I was asked I could give an actual answer. Cacao and cocoa may sound similar, but both of them are unique when it comes to taste, nutrition, and cost.  Keep reading to find out more. 


  • The cacao fruit tree, also known as Theobroma Cacao, produces cacao pods, which are cracked open to release cacao beans. From there, cacao beans can be processed a few different ways.
  • Cacao beans are fermented and then dried before being processed further.  I love them dipped in raw honey or tucked inside a medjool date.
  • Cacao nibs are simply cacao beans that have been chopped up into edible pieces, much like chocolate chips without the added sugars and fats. Cacao nibs contain all of the fiber, fat, and nutrients that the cacao bean does.  Add to trail mixes and smoothies, sprinkle on yogurt or fruit, or eat them out of the bag.
  • Cacao paste comes from cacao nibs that have been slowly heated to preserve the nutrients and are melted into a bark that is a less-processed form of dark chocolate bars. It is excellent for making chocolate candies or shavings to top off a dessert.
  • Cacao butter is removed from the bean during production and the remaining part of the fruit is used to produce raw cacao powder.  Cacao butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. It is white in color and has a rich, buttery texture that resembles white chocolate in taste and appearance.  Use in chocolate desserts or to moisturize those dry knees and elbows. 
  • Cacao powder contains more fiber and calories than cocoa powder since more of the nutrients from the whole bean are still intact. Cacao is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, cholesterol-free saturated fats, vitamins, minerals, fiber, natural carbohydrates, and protein that make it an excellent source of nutrients.


  • Cocoa is the term used to refer to the heated form of cacao that you probably grew up buying at the store in the form of cocoa powder.
  •  It isn’t until after the cacao beans are roasted and processed that they are called cocoa. Most cocoa powders have additives like sweeteners or cocoa butter. Once roasted and processed (turning cacao to cocoa), the beans lose much of their nutritional benefits. 
  • Cocoa powder is produced similarly to cacao except cocoa undergoes a higher temperature of heat during processing which cause the beans to lose much of their nutritional benefits. 
  • There are two types of cocoa powder: Dutch-process and Natural.
  • Dutch-process cocoa powder is made from cocoa (cacao) beans that have been washed with a potassium carbonate solution, to alkalize the pH and to neutralize their acidity. Dutch-process is dark brown in color.
  • Natural cocoa powder is reddish-brown and is made from cocoa beans that are simply roasted and ground into a fine powder. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder is actually very similar to raw cacao powder except for experiencing higher temperatures during production, which decreases antioxidant activity.