Cacao Powder

Cocoa Powder: The Essence of the Cacao Bean

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 story behind cocoa powder

Always remember your roots

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.

  • (: fun fact Though cacao originated in South and Central America, West Africa is today the world’s leading producer of cacao.
  • ? A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME...: 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.
  • From Mesoamerica…
    • While the indigenous civilizations of Central and South America had found many purposes for cacao, it wasn’t until the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 16th century that cacao began its transformation into the chocolate product that we know today and, eventually, into cocoa powder. In 1519 the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortes landed on the coast of what is today Mexico. As the Spaniards began to conquer and plunder the continent in search of riches, word traveled to the Aztec emperor Montezuma II that a vessel full of men had arrived in Tenochtitlán. Possibly believing Cortés to be Quetzalcoatl – an Aztec deity who legend claimed would one day return to Tenochtitlán bearing “all the treasures of Paradise” – Montezuma II greeted Cortés and his men with gifts, including large quantities of cacao.
  • to the New World...
    • The Spaniards took the cacao with them on further expeditions and began to use sugar cane and spices cultivated in the Caribbean to sweeten and flavor the cacao, thus creating the first modern incarnations of chocolate. For decades, chocolate was reserved mainly for the European elite, who adored it for not just its taste but its health benefits – including its supposed aphrodisiac qualities.
  • The Cocoa Press
    • In the 19th century, Dutch inventor Conrad Von Houten created the cocoa press to help squeeze the cocoa butter from the beans, leaving behind a powdery solid – the very first form of cocoa powder.

From Pod to Powder

  • (: fun fact FUN FACT: The cocoa butter that is extracted from the cacao beans during the process of making cocoa powder doesn’t go to waste! Cocoa butter is a valuable pharmaceutical and cosmetic commodity.
  • Cleaning:
    • The raw cacao beans are put into a machine to remove any remaining bits of shell, pulp, or other “extras”, like dust or sand, that don’t belong in the final product.
  • Roasting:
    • The cleaned cacao beans are then placed into large cylinders to be roasted, which brings out the strong aroma of the cacao. This process typically takes around 20-30 minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, and gives the cacao beans a richer, darker color.
  • Winnowing:
    • The winnowing process removes the shell from the cacao bean. The beans are crushed and lightly blown with air to remove the bits of shell. Left behind are bits of pure roasted cacao beans – these are also called cacao nibs.
  • Grounding:
    • The cacao nibs get passed through a mill and ground into a paste known as “chocolate liquor.”
  • Powdering:
    • Finally, the chocolate liquor is pumped into a hydraulic press that removes the cocoa butter liquid to leave behind only the cacao solids or as it cold the “cocoa cake”.These dry solids are further refined and pulverized to create unsweetened cocoa powder.
  • Dutch processed cocoa powder:
    • Avid bakers may already be familiar with Dutch processed cocoa powder, a darker and more lightly-flavored version of natural unsweetened cocoa powder that is 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. The dutching process became a way for manufacturers to make chocolate and its different products appear more attractive visually, as they were not happy enough with its natural, lighter, brown color. By creating a deeper, red brown color they could get higher prices for their cocoa and chocolate products. Today, Dutch processed cocoa powder is popular because it dissolves more easily in liquid than natural cocoa powder, which makes it ideal for using in hot chocolate mixes or ice cream. Taste wise, dutched cocoa has a usually an aggressive, cocoa-forward taste, while natural cacao however tends to have a fruity finish and is smoother than the industrial dutched product.

Functional Compounds & Wellness Benefits

  • (: fun fact True chocolate connoisseurs usually make their hot chocolate according to the French tradition of melting real chocolate in milk – or even better, cream – to create a thick and rich concoction which the French call chocolat chaud. Powdered hot chocolate mix? Non, merci!
  • Did someone say superfood? Many of the typical health benefits of cacao can also be found in unsweetened cocoa powder. Among cocoa powder’s health benefits are antioxidants and flavonols that have been shown to benefit our cardiovascular system and reduce inflammation. Cocoa powder is also rich in both magnesium, iron, calcium and potassium, as well as the compound theobromine, which has numerous health benefits.

  • King of Antioxidants
    • One of the many health benefits of cocoa powder is that, like other cacao products, it is absolutely loaded with antioxidants, and especially flavonoids – more by weight than any other food, in fact. Antioxidants help protect against and repair the damage done to our bodies by molecules called free radicals, which are the result of exposure to things like pollution and processed foods. Free radicals damage our cells and cause inflammation and serious illness, including cancer and heart disease. 100 grams of cocoa powder have an ORAC value of 55,000 – that makes cocoa powder over 10 times more powerful in the fight against disease-causing free radicals than blueberries. Incorporating more antioxidants into our diets is a key way to fight against free radicals and maintain our overall health and wellness.
  • Theobromine: An Energy Pioneer
    • While many people turn to coffee for a boost of energy to help them get through the day, the high amounts of caffeine found in coffee can also have some undesirable side effects. One of cocoa powder’s health benefits is that it is rich in magnesium, which makes cocoa powder effective in combatting low energy and fatigue. Similarly, theobromine acts as a stimulant similar to caffeine, but without the negative side effects like the jitters or energy crash. Subjects of one clinical study who received doses of theobromine reported higher “energetic arousal” and showed faster reaction times than those who received placebo capsules. That means cocoa powder can provide you with a healthy boost of energy to start your day.
  • Plant-Based Nutrition
    • Cacao is a natural source of potassium and magnesium, both of which are essential nutrients that keep our bodies in peak physical shape. Potassium is one of the most important minerals in our bodies; it helps to regulate the nervous system, promotes good blood circulation, and decreases the likelihood of strokes, kidney stones, and osteoporosis. Next to potassium, magnesium is one of the most powerful minerals in the human body – it literally repairs our DNA, converts food into energy, and is essential to muscle health. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that half of people in both the US and Europe get less than the daily recommended amount of magnesium. Incorporating unsweetened cocoa powder into your diet is an easy way to get your fix of both potassium and magnesium.
  • Nature’s antidepressant
    • Cocoa powder is full of compounds that stimulate the pleasure centers of your brain. It likewise encourages the production of several hormones and other “bliss chemicals” like dopamine, serotonin, and anandamide that can induce feelings of euphoria and relaxation – this makes cocoa powder a natural mood elevator. Similarly, cacao is also one of only two foods to contain phenethylamine (or PEA), also known as “the love drug” because it encourages the release of the same endorphins we experience when we fall in love.

Cocoa Powder vs. Whole Cacao Bean Powder

  • ? Unlocking the power of the whole cacao While cocoa powder is a well-known substance that has been readily available for more than a century, whole cacao bean powder is a unique, new way to enjoy a cocoa powder that’s been infused with the health benefits of the whole cacao bean. The best part is that whole cacao bean powder can be used in the same way as you would regular cocoa powder, but it’s jam-packed with even more of cacao’s superfood benefits for your health and wellness.

  • (: Rethinking traditional cocoa powder Regular cocoa powder is made by separating the liquid fats – or the cocoa butter – from the cacao liquor, which is actually a solid. Once the cocoa butter is removed, the bean can then be pulverized into a powder. But whole cacao bean powder is different – we’ve kept the cocoa butter and ground the entire bean into a powder that’s naturally infused with all of the functional wellness benefits that come with using the whole cacao bean to make a powder that’s healthier than ever before.
  • ? Unlocking the power of the whole cacao While cocoa powder is a well-known substance that has been readily available for more than a century, whole cacao bean powder is a unique, new way to enjoy a cocoa powder that’s been infused with the health benefits of the whole cacao bean. The best part is that whole cacao bean powder can be used in the same way as you would regular cocoa powder, but it’s jam-packed with even more of cacao’s superfood benefits for your health and wellness.
  • Richer in flavor
    • Because whole bean cacao powder still contains the natural fat content of the cacao bean, it is richer in flavor than traditional cocoa powder. Yum!
  • Less processed
    • Since regular cocoa powder requires the cocoa butter to be removed from the inside of the cacao bean, the end result is a much more processed product than whole bean cacao powder. Using the whole cacao bean lets us provide you with a product that has been minimally processed in comparison.
  • Functional wellness
    • Whole bean cacao powder is even richer in functional wellness benefits than traditional cocoa powder, since we’ve kept all of the naturally healthy fats found on the inside of the cacao bean.
  • Versatile
    • Whole bean cacao powder can be used in exactly the same ways as traditional cocoa powder, including in baked goods, shakes or smoothies, and hot chocolate.

Cocoa Powder vs. Instant Hot Chocolate

Pure cocoa powder is exactly what it sounds like. It is the end result of the powdering process, with no added sugar or flavors added. Pure cocoa powder is usually not used to make hot chocolate, simply because it is not already sweetened and would taste much more bitter than most people would expect from hot chocolate. However, more and more people today are trending towards using the “real” thing both due to its authentic cocoa flavor as well as its abundance of health benefits.

  • (: fun fact Instant hot cocoa mixes are known to have a lot of additives – mostly sugar – and milk powders that conceal the true flavor of the cacao. This is done in order to lower manufacturing costs, create an easy-to-melt product that can even dissolve in cold liquids, and a sweet tasting beverage that appeals to the masses.