Cacao and cocoa are just the perfect ingredients for chocolate indulgence. Whether it be dark, bitter, sweet or semi-sweet, we love all kinds of chocolate! As they are produced from the same source, we think they have the same effect on our diet and nutrition – but we are wrong!
They are the same thing but, at the same time, completely different! So read this article and familiarize yourself with their differences!
What Is Cacao?
Do you ever wonder where your favorite chocolate comes from? Well, it is definitely from the cacao plant!
Cacao is the purest and rawest form of chocolate you can get because it is the least processed compared to the other chocolates you buy in the stores. Cacao plants and cacao fruit trees grow pods that give us cacao beans when they are cracked open.
Their quality and flavor depend on the type of cacao plant the seeds are taken from, as well as the amount of sunlight and the minerals the plant gets from the soil. But generally, when raw, the beans give you the raw bitter taste of chocolate.
The beans are processed in a low heat that separates the cacao butter from the cacao beans. This is also how cacao powder and other cacao products are made.
Cacao butter has a white, fatty texture and tastes like white chocolate. The fats are then removed and the beans milled into different kinds of powder – either sweet, bitter, semi-sweet, etc.
Cacao powder retains all of its enzymes, nutrients and vitamins because it is processed at a low heat. This process is what differentiates cacao from cacao powder. It has more antioxidants than other foods and the highest amount of magnesium.
When the cacao beans are chopped, they are called cacao nibs and are edible. They are like chocolate without any added fats and sugars, and have all the nutrients of raw cacao.
From these cacao nibs, cacao paste is made. The nibs are processed at a low heat, which retains their nutrients and vitamins, and then melted into chocolate bars.
Cacao powder has a lot more calories and fiber compared to cocoa powder and is the source of many nutrients, fats, vitamins, fiber, natural carbohydrates, etc.
What Does Cacao Do To Your Body?
1. It Lowers Your Body’s Resistance To Insulin
Insulin enables us to break down and control the glucose in our body. People with high insulin resistance have cells that do not respond to insulin and so glucose is not broken down in their body. This results in a gradual build up of glucose in the blood. If this continues, it results in type II diabetes.
The two ways of reversing this insulin resistance are proper exercise and a healthy diet, which break down glucose in the body. There is also a third and much more convenient way, however – eating the recommended amount of cacao. This can lower your body’s resistance to insulin. Studies show 100 grams of cacao in your daily diet can potentially improve your cell response and lower blood lipid levels.
2. It Improves The Functioning Of Your Heart
Flavanols promote a more efficient and healthier blood vessel function. These are found in different kinds of fruit and food, like apples, tea, blueberries, etc.
A review from the University of Illinois states that cacao’s flavanols are powerful in the way they can develop a heart healthy. They found that some compounds have a particularly positive effect on the cardiovascular system and prevent heart problems.
3. It Protects You From Free Radicals
Cacao powder contains more antioxidants than blueberries do. These antioxidants are very effective in helping us to cope with different kinds of harmful toxins, as well as stress, inflammation and other issues. If left untreated, the damage caused by free radicals can result in serious problems, like cancer.
4. It Improves Your Mood
Since chocolate is a product of cacao, then cacao surely succeeds in making most people happy. This is not only because of its rich flavor, but also because of certain compounds that boost your mood, including:
- Phenylethylamine, which causes the brain to release endorphins. This makes us happy and improves our mood.
- Serotonin, which activates pleasure in the brain, helps to both create a good mood and regulate our appetite.
- Andandomide. This contributes greatly to combating depression, improving a bad appetite, and preventing memory loss, etc.
What Is Cocoa?
Cocoa is the heated and processed version of cacao that we buy at stores or supermarkets, which is mostly sold in powder form. We have mentioned that cacao has more health benefits than cocoa, but it can also provide you with lots of minerals and vitamins when it is eaten without the added fats (from milk and oil) and added sugar.
Cocoa is produced by using a similar process to the one that’s used to make cacao. The difference is that cocoa is processed at a very high temperature and retains just a small number of antioxidants. Nevertheless, it is still good for your skin, blood, heart and even relieves stress.
Natural Cocoa Powder & Dutch-Process Cocoa Powder
Companies have been making Dutch-processed cocoa powder for commercial consumption. This is processed by using an alkaline solution to give it a much richer taste. It also makes the texture smoother, but reduces the number of healthy minerals in the cocoa. It makes cocoa cheaper and more enticing for consumers. Natural cocoa powder contains fiber, which is important in a healthy diet, and has a small amount of fat and protein.
Even though most people prefer cocoa to cacao, cocoa still has polyphenol compounds like cacao and other minerals as well. The extent of this depends on how low the heating process is.
Which Is Better?
When you compare them both, cacao has more proven health benefits than cocoa, although the latter is cheaper because it is commercially made. However, we can still enjoy both!
If you want to have a delicious yet happy diet, raw chocolate without added sugars and fats (either in the form of cacao or cocoa) is a good choice. However, over consumption of any food is not advisable and this applies to cocoa and cacao!
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