What’s the difference between cacao (pronounced kah-kow) and cocoa? Most people believe they are interchangeable and thus, there’s no difference at all. But that’s not exactly true.
The cacao tree grows cacao fruit. Pods, really. Imagine a tree with lots of multi colored footballs growing on them. Those footballs are your cacao pods. Inside the pods are the beans. Not the dark brown you’re likely envisioning, but more of a white-gooey-pulpy mess. Sound yummy, yes?
There’s your raw chocolate. And raw chocolate is technically called cacao. It’s bitter and somewhat unprocessed with no additional ingredients. If you dried, roasted and removed the cocoa butter from the beans, it’s still cacao. If you ground the beans after the fat was removed, you’d have cacao powder. So when exactly does it evolve into cocoa powder??
Patience, we’re getting there.
Cocoa powder occurs when the chocolate is heated at an even higher temperature. There are different ways of processing cocoa powder (such as Dutch processed, which means processed with alkali to remove the bitterness). While some nutrients are lost in the process, the chocolate you know and love still retains fiber, protein and the antioxidants you didn’t know you ever needed but are really glad you have access to them.
So the next time you hear someone refer to a cocoa tree (wrong), or ask you for a cup of hot cacao (unlikely), you have our permission to gently correct them and teach them the facts. Just be gentle.