Sunday, 7 April 2013

What is the difference between cacao and cocoa, carob and chocolate? cacao and cocoa the same thing? And if so, why are their names spelt differently? Well, in actual fact, Cacao and cocoa start off exactly the same, pods from the Theobroma cacao plant, but along the way there are differences in the manufacturing process that lead to production of two different products. Cacao is a pure, ‘raw’ powder that is high in antioxidants and has numerous health benefits. While cocoa is the more processed form, it is lower in nutritional value and health benefits but has a richer, sweeter flavour.

As mentioned, cacao and cocoa are both made from pods of the theobroma cacao plant, which literally translates to food of the gods. Cacao grows in hot rainy areas within twenty degrees of the equator such as peru and equador.  The plant has large pods, with thick skin and a sweet pulp surrounding 30-50 cocoa seeds. There is no specific harvesting season, and picking of the pods can go on for many months to all year round. Once harvested from the tree, the beans are laid out in the sun and ‘sweated’. This allows the pulp and beans to ferment, and the pulp to fall away from the seeds. It also allows the flavour of the cacao seeds to develop. From here the beans are transported to factories and further dried in the sun. It takes between 300 and 600 cacao beans to make 1kg of chocolate depending on the cacao content.

From this stage, to make Cocoa, the beans would be roasted, cracked and deshelled. The cracked beans are called nibs. These are sold as such, or processed into cocoa liquor which is a combination of cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is an edible fat that is used in the production of milk and white chocolate, and is regularly used in cosmetics. 

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The cocoa powder is formed from crushed roasted beans. It is often ‘dutched’. This means that an alkalizing agent, usually potassium carbonate, is added to the powder making the cocoa less acidic, darker in colour and gives it a more mellow, less bitter flavour.  Cocoa is perfect for milk chocolate and is often used in desserts. Studies show however that heavy dutching destroys as much as 90% of the antioxidants responsible for the beans health benefits.

Cacao however avoids the roasting processes, although some argue that grinding it into a powder produces heat that can damage the nutrients in the ‘raw’ product.  The cacao is hung in factories, and the cacao butter drips off, leaving dried seeds, which are then ground.  Cacao powder has a stronger, more bitter flavour, and is packed full of nutrients and antioxidants.  

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Cacao powder contains the minerals calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. It contains essential fatty acids and around 230mg of caffeine and 2057mg of theobromine per 100g powder. Theobromine has a similar, but milder effect than caffeine on the nervous system. It is a vasodilator, diuretic and heart stimulant. It is also thought to cause the brain to produce more of a neurotransmitter anandamide which accounts for the euphoric sensation we get from eating chocolate.

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In a review of a decade of studies into cocoa and cacao, it was found that cacao can contain up to 10% its weight in flavanoids, depending on the level of processing. From extensive research into green tea, another plant high in flavanoids,  we know that flavanoids are beneficial for cardiovascular health. These flavanoids also contribute to the antioxidant content of raw cacao, with cacao powder boasting an antioxidant ORAC score of around 95500 per 100g.

There is a growing volume of research into cocoa and cacao that highlights its role in increasing good cholesterol, reducing blood pressure,  increasing insulin sensitivity and decreasing insulin resistance. So how much cacao do you have to eat to obtain its health benefits? In reality, you do need to eat a decent amount, on average around 100g of dark chocolate daily. This is not necessarily practical or  healthy in other ways. I would suggest that you stick to small amount of dark chocolate or cacao powder daily, and combine it with other plant based foods known to be high in antioxidants. Make cacao part of a healthy life style and enjoy the benefits of quality chocolate.

So, chocolate as we know it contains the following
Dark chocolate
Sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor (mixture of cocoa powder and cocoa butter)
The higher the percentage of cocoa the better the antioxidant value when compared to other cocoa products
Milk chocolate
Sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, milk or milk powder, and vanilla
Has small amounts of cocoas benefits
White chocolate
Sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder, and vanilla
White chocolate has the least health benefits as there is no cocoa solids
‘Raw’ Dark chocolate
Contains ‘raw’ unroasted cacao butter and liquor
Raw cacao has the most antioxidants and nutrients present

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Carob however, is manufactured from the tree commonly known as the carob tree. The pods, which are the plants fruit, are 15-30cm long, and quite broad. The pods are roasted, powdered and used to flavour cakes and cookies. They’re a great source of sugars and have around 8% protein. It’s also a good source of vitamin A, B vitamins and some minerals. Carob doesn’t contain the theobromine that chocolate contains. Generally speaking carob chocolate has lower calories and less fat than chocolate made with cocoa, although it does have a different flavour.

Hope this helps you choose the option best for you.


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