What’s the Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder and cacao powder are spelled similar and are even similar products, but they aren’t one and the same.

two small jars filled with cocoa powder and cacao powder on a table with other chocolates

Cacao. Cocoa. Same difference right? Not exactly. These two ingredients have very similar origins, but they have some key differences. Both start out as beans from the cacao plant, which are separated from the fatty part known as cocoa butter (fun fact: that’s where white chocolate comes from). The beans are then milled and processed, and that’s how you make both cacao powder and cocoa powder. But here’s what makes them different.

What is cacao powder?

The beans are processed at low temperatures and are considered raw. Once milled into powder, it contains a much higher amount of enzymes, minerals, and nutrients. That’s cacao powder. It tastes more bitter than cocoa powder but offers more nutritional content and is considered more natural.

What is cocoa powder?

Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is created when the beans are processed at a much higher temperature. The beans are not only fermented but also roasted (cacao powder only involves fermentation). Without further processing, the cocoa is naturally acidic in taste. The finely ground and sifted product is sold as “natural cocoa”. Compared to cacao power, a tradeoff is that it may lack in the nutrients due to the additional heating.

What is Dutch-processed or alkalized cocoa?

There is also Dutch-processed or alkalized cocoa to reduce acidity. According to Cooks Illustrated, typically an alkaline solution like potassium carbonate is added to the chocolate liquor during the refining process, bumping up the pH to between 5.7 to 7.2.  The result is a powder that’s less bitter, sweeter, slightly darker in color, and more soluble when added to liquids.

Nutritional comparison

1 tablespoon (5g) of cocoa powder contains:

  • 3 grams carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of dietary fiber
  • <1 gram of protein
  • 0.5 grams of total fat
  • 2.1 mg of iron
  • 0 mg of phosphorus
  • 6.4 mg of calcium
  • 0 mg of magnesium
  • 75 mg of potassium
  • 8 mg of caffeine

(Reference: Hershey’s Cocoa)

1 tablespoon (6g) of cacao powder contains:

  • 3.2 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of dietary fiber
  • 1.6 grams of protein
  • 0.6 g of total fat
  • 0.8 mg of iron
  • 14 mg of calcium
  • 42.4 mg of magnesium
  • 120 mg of potassium
  • 19.6 mg of caffeine

(Reference: Navitas Organics Cacao powder)

side by side comparison of the difference between cocoa and cacao

Can I substitute cacao for cocoa powder?

Yes, but you’ll probably want to use less of it because it tastes stronger and more bitter. Cacao powder is also more absorbent, so increase the measurements for all liquid ingredients you’re using. Remember, you can always add more but you can’t take away, so increase bit by bit until your desired consistency is reached.

When cooking with cacao, use baking soda instead of baking powder as a leavening agent. Baking soda reacts with cacao powder because of the acidity, but less so with cocoa powder since it’s stripped of its acidity. That’s why you’ll see recipes with cocoa powder call for baking powder instead of soda.

How do you use cacao powder?

The simple answer is whenever you want to increase the chocolate flavor in a dish. But it’s not just for desserts. You can add it to smoothies and hot chocolate and some even use in meat rubs. It’s a great ingredient when you want something rich and chocolatey but not completely unhealthy.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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33 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Paul says

    Great article thanks for this. When substituting cacao powder for cocoa, how much baking soda should you use (vs BP)? Is it a 1:1 replacement of BS for BP? Or should you use less BS than the amount of BP called for in the recipe? Please advise. Thanks

    • Nilaakshi says

      I have the same problem too Paul. We have trouble getting hold of raw cocoa in Australia. It’s alwasy dutch processed that i see. But i do have cacao powder at home.

  2. Carol S Carlson says

    Can I replace cocoa powder with cacao powder to make keto ice cream? I will be churning it.
    thanks
    Carol

  3. André says

    I make my chocolate with cacao powder (not cocoa). I use melted coconut oil with honey and add the cacao powder and stirs until it gets a good consistency and spread in a pan and put it in the fridge. It has to be put in the fridge otherwise it won’t get hard.

  4. Joan Hill says

    Thank you so much for the information We are so lucky to have knowledgeable people to help us along. I am about to try to make keto icecream but without an ice cream maker. Really needing a spoonful of something like that for a little treat 🤗🤗

  5. therese says

    Hi Jessica
    Thank you for explaining all about cacao and cocoa

    I recently have had surgery and was looking for ingredients rich in certain trace elements and vitamins to stimulate healing

    I much appreciate your educating the public

  6. Monica says

    Hi Jessica! Thanks for the information! I’m wondering if I will ruin a chocolate cake by using cacao instead of cocoa- is the baking soda a 1 to replacement for powder? And how much more liquid do I add- if I use less cacao then I would cocoa should it even out the liquid requirements? I’m making a cake for a kid and don’t have access to cocoa and don’t want to ruin her birthday with a bad cake.

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