Cacao Vs. Cocoa: SPICEography Showdown

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Cacao and cocoa powder both come from the same plant. The difference between them has to do with how they are processed. The process for making cocoa powder involves raising it to much higher temperatures than those to which cacao is exposed. This results in two products with different characteristics, but how different are they? Do they taste the same? Can you use them in the same dishes? We will answer these questions and more in this edition of SPICEography Showdown. 

How do cacao and cocoa powder differ in flavor?

The main difference between the flavors of the two forms has to with bitterness. Cacao powder comes from the raw, unprocessed seeds of the cocoa tree and is somewhat bitter but that also has more of the chocolate flavor when compared to cocoa powder. The beans used to make cacao powder are fermented before being chopped and crushed. They are then filtered to remove their cocoa butter content, before being dried to make cacao powder.

Cocoa powder comes from beans that are not just fermented but roasted as well. When making Dutch cocoa powder, the beans are also alkalized to neutralize their acidity. Removing the acidity results in a product that is slightly sweeter than cacao and that is also richer. Regular cocoa powder (the type most readily available in the US) is not alkalized and therefore retains much of the bitterness and acidic taste.

Can you use one in place of the other?

Cacao can be used in place of cocoa powder, but you will have to keep a few things in mind. First, there is the matter of cacao powder’s stronger taste. This means that you will have to use less of it in a recipe that calls for cocoa powder. Next, there is the fact that cacao powder will absorb more liquid cocoa powder. This means that you may need to make adjustments to the amounts of liquids in your recipe as well. Another factor is leavening. You will need to use baking soda if you are using cacao as a substitute for Dutch cocoa as baking powder may not provide the desired results.

You can also use cocoa powder as a substitute for cacao powder. You may need to reduce the total amount of liquid in the recipe since cocoa powder does not absorb as much liquid as cacao powder. Note also that unlike cacao, cocoa powder is not acidic so it will not react with baking soda the way that cacao powder will. This means that you will also need to substitute baking powder for any baking soda in the recipe.

When should you use cacao powder and when should you use cocoa powder?

You can use cacao for many of the same applications that require cocoa powder. Use it in desserts or to make hot chocolate. Because of its high nutritional value, you can use it as a supplement by adding it to smoothies along with other healthy ingredients. It is beneficial in any dish that will be improved by an intense chocolate flavor.

Cocoa powder is a versatile ingredient with a large number of dessert applications and even a few savory ones. Use it to make a hot chocolate that will be richer and not as intensely flavored as that made from cacao.