Cacao vs. Cocoa: What’s the Difference?

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What is the difference between cacao and cocoa? Which is better for you, cocoa or cacao? Do cocoa and cacao have the same flavor? Being a chocolate writer, I am often asked these questions, and the answer is simple: cacao and cocoa are the same word in many languages.

The functional distinctions between the terms are debatable in the handmade chocolate sector, but in ordinary use, the distinction is difficult to identify. This is because cacao and cocoa have the same legal definition, and anybody who tells you otherwise is either attempting to sell you on the advantages of cacao as a superfood or doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Guaranteed.

The only true distinction between cocoa and cacao is the meaning and context of each term in their respective languages. As a consequence, depending on the nation, there might be significant variances in the general use of the two terms. In this article, we look at how different civilizations have interpreted chocolate or cocoa in diverse circumstances.

To get to various parts, please see the table of contents below.

Overall: What Is the Different Between Cocoa and Cacao?

When you look at how most people perceive the two terms, it’s simple to see why they’re so confused.

Cacao and cocoa are completely interchangeable linguistically. Cacao, on the other hand, has a far more healthful and natural meaning owing to its stronger botanical link. Cacao, on the other hand, has a cheaper and less healthful image due to its historical use in Africa and Asia, where largely low-quality cocoa is farmed.

Cacao is often used in the chocolate business to refer to the raw product, from the tree to the roasted cacao seeds, which some people refer to as cocoa beans. Even after roasting, some manufacturers continue to refer to them as cocoa beans (though the irony continues in the fact that theyre seeds, not beans). Cacao is now widely regarded as a superfood, which it is, but only to a degree.

The issue is that most individuals do not link cacao with chocolate, which adds to the misunderstanding. As a result, depending on the provenance of a chocolate or cocoa product, the components may be listed as cocoa or cacao. Depending on the image a product wishes to project, it may be marketed as cacao- or cocoa-based. Depending on how completely you read this text, you may now consider yourself knowledgeable on cacao and cocoa.

Again, the dictionary definitions of cacao and cocoa, as well as the product itself, are the same. The difference is in how people use the terms.

Cacao is often used to refer to raw cacao from the Theobroma cacao tree, as well as cacao products that strive to look healthier or more natural to customers. Cocoa is often displayed with marshmallows and other sweets, and is used to market inexpensive chocolate-flavored treats. Click here to learn more about the health advantages of cacao and premium chocolate.

Etymology of Cacao vs. Cocoa

The fruit’s original name Even before it was called cacao or cocoa, Theobroma cacao was derived from the term cacahuatl, which means bitter or acidic water. The name is derived from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, and the plant was known by a similar-sounding name across the Americas (the fruit is called cacau in Portuguese). Despite its South American origins, the cacao plant is said to have been eaten much more throughout Central America, from modern-day central Mexico down to Honduras.

In Greek, the genus name approximately translates as nourishment of the Gods or nectar of the Gods. Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish explorer, named the plant in the late 18th century. As you may remember, the first Europeans to visit modern-day Central America were Spanish explorers, who discovered a delectable confection known to the natives as cacao. They assumed it was some type of New World almond at the time.

Each native tribe has their own name for the plant, but the Nahuatl word is the most important in the present day. This is the variety that the Spanish conquerors took and twisted before bringing it back to Europe as cacao. Strangely, the more popular phrase these days is the Mayan word kakaw, whose glyph has become rather renowned.

French. Cacao was altered once again when it entered the English vernacular, becoming cocoa. According to folklore, the first distinction between cocoa and cacao stemmed from an erroneously scribbled ledger aboard a cargo ship. Since the Nahuatl word is scarcely recognized, much alone employed, outside of modern-day Mexico, the phrase has followed two paths: English and EspaƱol

If you listen to how different languages pronounce cocoa, it will certainly sound close to the fundamental kah-kow. But, the pronunciation may offer you a hint as to whether the term was brought to their language via English or Spanish. I favor the latter, as demonstrated by the name of my website (

Cacao Pronunciation

Cacao is pronounced cuh-cow, as in cut or cowardly.

Cocoa Pronunciation

Cocoa is pronounced co-co, exactly as coconut, since the an in English is silent.

Cacao vs. Cocoa: What Is Cacao?

Cacao, as previously stated, is Theobroma cacao, a plant in the Theobroma family native to South America and farmed for millennia in Central America. This cultivation continued even after the plant was transported to other regions and cultivated elsewhere. Cacao is still a significant staple throughout the Americas, not to mention Africa and Asia. Yet, since cacao is a Spanish butchering of the word, and the former Spanish colonies are the core of cacao culture, it is their term that has gained prominence in recent years.

The Spaniards introduced a more nuanced cocoa cultivar to their former colonies, which included the Philippines and the Americas. Criollo varieties are less bitter and have a more flowery and nutty taste than their forastero counterparts (discussed below). The Spanish may not have found alternative varietals at the time they were taking criollo cocoa overseas, but it does not diminish the effect of their decision.

It has resulted in completely different eating habits and, in general, less processing required to make it palatable. For over a century, the Spaniards were able to keep cacao a secret from the other European powers. Till it all gushed out one day.

The Spaniards had virtually exclusively consumed cacao in the form of an unsweetened spicy cacao beverage, which was supposed to be an aphrodisiac and was typically seen as a sign of wealth. In reality, throughout Spain and her colonies, cacao was mostly consumed in the form of a prepared cacao drink or on the plantation as a fruit or fruit liquor. It was very costly in all forms, making it a highly prized and speciality delicacy.

To this day, the majority of cacao consumed in Spain comes in the form of liquids, either beverages or sauces. Even in former Spanish colonies such as the Philippines and Guatemala, the majority of cacao-based goods are eaten in the form of less-processed beverages. Chocolate, on the other hand, is the name of a sugary sweet imported delicacy. The irony is that thousands of their compatriots earn a livelihood by farming chocolate, only to sell it at (nearly invariably) a heinous price.

The cacao fruit and items derived from minimally processed cacao beans taste nothing like the chocolate-flavored candy bars found in the United States and other Western nations. Even though they originate from the same plant, the ingredients on the backs of those bars are most likely cocoa mass rather than cacao beans. These cacao fruits taste more like lychee and strawberry, while minimally processed cacao items taste more bitter and less flat and sweet than grocery store chocolate bars.

What Is the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa?

Cocoa, like cacao, is the fruit and seeds of Theobroma cacao, a South American tropical plant. The English term for the plant, however, is cocoa, a distorted rendition of the Spanish word cacao. Cocoa entered the languages at the same time as the plant, via the Spanish Empire.

Since Theobroma cacao is native to the Americas, once the French and British obtained some of it, they immediately started spreading it to their other territories. But, only the hardier variety known as forastero, which is most abundant in South America, successfully crossed seas in the first few hundred years.

Cacao eventually found its way to Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific, where it was colonized by the French, Spanish, British, and Dutch. They were not interested in drinking since they were cultivating a cultivar that was inherently more flat and robust in taste (not to mention more bitter).

They needed to add something to their hot chocolate to make it more filling, especially to combat the bitter characteristics of the seeds. As a result, they used corn starch and other thickeners, along with a hearty dose of sugar or honey. In many respects, this reduced the price of the product, but it also enhanced the amount of time each cacao fruit and bag of cacao beans could last. The French and Brits transformed cocoa from a high-class beverage to a popular delight for individuals of all social strata.

Europeans’ motives for drinking cocoa in both liquid and solid forms were quite similar to those of the Spaniards, but the circumstances around cocoa gradually evolved for a variety of reasons. The first chocolate bar was invented in the 1800s by an Englishman called Joseph Fry. Although additional components, like as milk and spices, were added to the drink, the food version was just unsweetened cocoa powder with some sugar and more cacao butter thrown in.

Cacao or cocoa, as it is often known, is nearly 50% fat in its natural condition. This fat is often extracted from cocoa beans and marketed as cocoa butter, which is used to manufacture white chocolate and is highly sought after in the cosmetics business. The remainder of this cocoa cake is primarily cocoa solids, which are processed into cocoa powder and used to make chocolate beverages. Later in history, this powder was used as a treasured flavoring in various delicacies.

Cocoa evolved from an English name for a fruit growing in Spanish colonies to a substance used to flavor confections.

The implications of the terms cocoa and cacao have altered as a result of the European powers’ varying consumption habits and agricultural choices. Cacao is often associated with the fruit and the cacao nib. But, when you think of cocoa, you probably think of cheap chocolate and sugary cocoa beverages, emphasizing the implicit distinction between cocoa and cacao.

So, is cocoa genuinely beneficial to your health? It all relies on how it was cultivated and handled. Health food shops will have you think that the dispute is between cacao powder and cocoa powder, pitting one against the other, while in fact you could call your product either name and be accurate. Legally, switching between cocoa and cacao has no effect on the origin or processing of the component. It’s merely a personal preference.

What Is the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa (Usage)?

Anybody who claims that chocolate often includes sugar or hydrogenated oils is misinformed. It’s the same as claiming that peanuts include salt and sugar because some peanut butter does. Just as not all cacao goods should be praised, not all cocoa products should be condemned. The distinction between cacao and cocoa is entirely lexical and stylistic.

Most people associate cocoa with dark chocolate because of its roots in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States over the twentieth century. It’s even in the name of that sweet, warm beverage you slurp on chilly winter evenings, and it’s on the list of ingredients in every brownie recipe. Yet, hot chocolate and cocoa powder are not the only goods derived from Theobroma cacao; they are just the most popular.

In fact, chocolate is arguably the most often ingested type of cacao (another industry in which the cocoa vs. cacao debate lives on). In my experience, a chocolate producer who refers to the beans as cacao often purchases them from a Latin American nation, which produces the majority of the world’s organic and high-quality cacao. This has altered in recent years, as more and more handmade chocolate manufacturers have established their enterprises.

Makers who call the beans cocoa, on the other hand, often acquire beans from Africa or Asia, or maybe grew up in a location where the tree was named cocoa and cacao had its scientific term.

People often confuse cocoa and cacao as distinct products of the cacao bean, whereas in fact they are only different names and meanings for the same commodity.

Smaller chocolate producers often refer to their ingredient as cacao and source from smaller cacao farms that have more meticulous processing and attention to detail. They next process the cacao into less-processed chocolate goods and maybe a range of cocoa products including cacao bean fragments (called nibs). Larger chocolate producers, on the other hand, choose to term their component cocoa and source from major cocoa dealers in West Africa or Indonesia. They sometimes work with chocolate liquor, prioritize quantity above quality, and continue to use the English term cocoa throughout the process.

As a result, items labeled cacao something or other are less processed and have less added sugar, yet many natural food businesses utilize this as a marketing tool. Cacao is not always an over-processed form of the cocoa fruit, although it often is. What the customer needs to realize is that cacao and cocoa have distinct connotations, but it is still their responsibility to read labels and determine if a product fits within the context of its word choice. Even if Googling this question leads you to believe otherwise, cocoa powder and cacao powder are the same food.

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