What's the Difference?
It’s complicated. For most of history, cacao referred to the tree where cocoa beans grew. In more recent years, the difference between cacao and cocoa is in the processing, plus a little marketing magic. Beans that are minimally processed with low heat are now labeled as cacao powder. In contrast, beans that are exposed to high heat roasting and pressed into powder are sold as cocoa powder. The cocoa powder will have a sweeter, more “commercial” taste, but exposure to high heat alters the molecular structure of the beans, and results in a loss of some beneficial constituents. Cacao is richer in nutrients, antioxidants and enzymes. Cocoa and cacao can be used interchangeably in recipes, smoothies and baking.
No doubt you’ve heard about the health benefits of chocolate. A high-quality dark chocolate bar will deliver modest health benefits, but studies that are showing impressive results are using the minimally processed cacao given in consistent therapeutic doses. Powerful plant compounds called flavonoids are also measured and standardized in the studies yielding the best results.
The Benefits of Cacao Consumption
- Improve and Preserve Cognitive Function: Growing numbers of studies show that consuming cacao in consistent, therapeutic amounts may help preserve cognitive function, improve memory, and stave off neurodegenerative diseases.
- Support for Positive Mood: Containing compounds that encourage production of endorphins and serotonin, the “feel good” chemicals in the body, cacao can boost mood.
- Heart-Healthy: Regular consumption is associated with decreased blood pressure, increased blood vessel flexibility, improved cholesterol numbers and overall reduced risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Powerful Antioxidant: Cacao scores among the top ten foods on the ORAC scale (stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbency Capacity), which measures the antioxidant capacity of food. Cocoa scores well, but considerably lower than cacao. Cacao even surpasses the heavy-hitters like red wine, green tea, and blueberries.
- Energizing: Containing negligible caffeine, it’s the theobromine in cacao that is stimulating, and not in the way that caffeine hits hard and fast. Theobromine creates a slow-release of energy throughout the day.
- Nutrient-Rich: Good for overall health, cacao is high in magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese
Studies that yield impressive results are typically working with cacao that contains 400-900 mg of flavonoids.
1 T. cacao powder = ~ 500 mg of flavonoids
Cacao powder can easily be added to smoothies, hot oats, and yogurt. Traditional hot cocoa will provide some benefits, but high heat will diminish the health perks. Some people just mix their daily dose with coconut oil and let it slide down the hatch. Cacao nibs are also a good option. Nibs are cacao beans that have broken into small pieces and they are easily added to trail mixes and cereals.
This energizing fudge is rich with brain-feeding coconut fat and is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
1/3 C. coconut butter
1 T. coconut oil
1 T. nut butter of choice (heaping)
1 T. cocoa powder (heaping)
1T. honey or maple syrup
Melt coconut butter and oil over very low heat. Once melted, remove from heat and add nut butter, cocoa powder and sweetener. Stir constantly until smooth. Just as mixture begins to thicken, quickly spoon into a glass or stainless steel container and put in refrigerator. Muffin pans coated with coconut oil are ideal and this recipe will make six mini or three full size chocolate fudge “muffins”. Once chilled they are easily popped out of the pan and stored in or out of the fridge. Ratios of all ingredients may be adjusted to preferred taste and consistency.