If you’re an avid baker, or just someone who enjoys consuming baked goods (no judgment – we are, too) then you’ve certainly encountered cocoa powder in some form or another. But what is cocoa powder, exactly? And does unsweetened cocoa powder have the same health benefits as other cacao products? We’ve got the answers to all of your cacao-related questions,
including cocoa powder’s health benefits and how you can begin to enjoy more of this “food of the gods.”
The true history of cocoa powder begins with Theobroma cacao, a tree indigenous to South and Central America that produces cacao fruit, the beans of which eventually became the chocolate we know and love today. But long before there was chocolate, there was xocolatl – the ancient Nahuatl word used to describe the “bitter water” that the Aztec and Maya used to make from the beans of the cacao fruit and drink during ritual occasions.
While some people believe that the word “cocoa” indicates a product that has been overly processed while “cacao” refers to chocolate’s more raw or natural state, the true difference is much more subtle. “Cocoa” is the word that refers to the dry solids that remain after the fat content has been removed from roasted and ground cacao beans. Today, some companies use the term “cacao” to make their products seem more authentic or healthier and less processed – but this is mostly a marketing tactic.
Incorporating cocoa powder into your everyday diet is easy! However it’s important to keep in mind that the less processed, the better – and unsweetened natural cocoa powder has more health benefits than cocoa powder that is already loaded with sugar. Cocoa powder can be added to smoothies, yogurt, and granola to add a rich, chocolate flavor. It also can be used to make healthy puddings, like chia seed or rice pudding. Finally, cocoa powder can be used in a variety of baked goods or pastries – consider using cacao shell flour and cacao fruit products to create your favorite treats.
Yes! Cocoa powder has many health benefits, because it comes from cacao. In fact, cacao is a superfood – that means it has a well-rounded nutritional profile. Cacao is loaded with antioxidants that help fight the damage caused to our cells by free radicals. Free radicals are the byproduct of a modern lifestyle that includes exposure to pollution and processed foods, and are thought to be the root cause of diseases like cancer and heart disease. Cacao is also rich in the essential nutrients potassium and magnesium, which help support both the nervous, cardiovascular, and muscular systems. Finally, cacao is also a great source of theobromine, which is a natural energy-booster that is non-addictive and does not induce any negative side effects like jitters or energy crashes.
Dutch processed cocoa powder is a darker and more chemical version of a great natural unsweetened cocoa powder often used for dusting or garnishing baked goods. It gets its name from the Dutch inventor that pioneered the cocoa press, Conrad Von Houten. Dutched processed cocoa powder is cocoa powder that has been alkalized to neutralize its acidity and wild flavors as well as to achieve a more marketable desired deep red brown color. Dutch processed cocoa powder usually dissolves more easily in liquid than natural cocoa powder, which makes it ideal for using in industrial hot chocolate mixes or ice cream.
The difference between “cacao” and “cocoa” is actually quite subtle. While some people believe that the word “cocoa” indicates a product that has been overly processed while “cacao” refers to chocolate’s more raw or natural state, that’s mostly just a marketing gimmick used by businesses who want people to believe that cacao is somehow healthier than cocoa. In reality, “cocoa” refers to the powder made from cacao beans. Essentially, “cacao” is the origin – as in, the plant, inside of which are the cacao beans – and “cocoa” is the powder that results from the grinding of the cacao beans.