Cocoa powder and cacao powder are spelled similar and are even similar products, but they aren’t one and the same.
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”. 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. Compared to cacao power, a tradeoff is that it may lack in the nutrients due to the additional heating.
1 tablespoon of cocoa powder contains:
- .09 grams of sugar
- 3 grams carbohydrates
- 1.6 grams of protein
- .75 mg of iron
- 40 mg of phosphorus
- 7 mg of calcium
- 27 mg of magnesium
- 82 mg of potassium
1 tablespoon of cacao powder contains:
- 1 gram of sugar
- 8 grams of carbohydrates
- 3 grams of protein
- 7 mg of iron
- 92 mg of phosphorus
- 49 mg of calcium
- 81 mg of magnesium
- 337 mg of potassium
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.