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What is The Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa Powder | UK

by Hamza Jamal |

The nibs inside cacao beans produce cacao or cocoa powder, with the final product dependent on the processing method.

Cacao is a purer product because it retains the cocoa nib's original nutritional content, including cocoa butter, while cocoa powder comes from high-temperature roasting with the removal of the cocoa butter.

Think of it like this:

  •         Cacao – minimal processing, purer.
  •         Cocoa powder is more processed and less pure.

Despite preserving less of the original nutritional content, cocoa powder is more beneficial in beverages and foods – including meal replacement shakes like vybey Complete Meal Powder and nootropic drinks like Braincare Smart Focus – because it is milder and less fatty.

You can also get two types:

  •         Dutch-processed cocoa powder treated with alkali to neutralise acidity, resulting in a milder flavour and darker colour.
  •         Natural cocoa powder from roasted cocoa beans without alkali treatment. It has a slightly higher fat content than Dutch-processed cocoa powder but is still lower than cacao powder.

We provide more colour below.

Cacao and cocoa

Cacao and cocoa come from the same plant and bean, and they even look the same if you're not careful (it doesn't help that some chocolate products inconsistently use "cacao" and "cocoa," either).

Processing cacao nibs creates raw ground cacao powder complete with cocoa butter, but further refinement creates cocoa powder.

Cocoa powder is the more processed version of cocoa powder, but that doesn't mean it's a lesser product as a food ingredient.

Cocoa is a natural caffeine source and nootropic, meaning it has positive effects on the brain (in this case, enhancing focus and concentration).

Combining cocoa and matcha green tea – another source of caffeine – also creates a fantastic coffee alternative.

Processing methods

The way cacao beans are processed changes the quality and flavour of the final product.

Proper fermentation develops the flavour precursors in the cacao bean, and well-fermented beans produce higher-quality cacao and cocoa powders.

The roasting process can affect the powder's flavour, aroma, and colour. Optimal roasting reduces bitterness.

Dutch processing (alkalisation) mellows the flavour and darkens the colour of cocoa powder, but it may also reduce antioxidants.

The more cacao is processed, the more nutritional content gets stripped, so the best quality cacao and cocoa powders have minimal processing, although even highly processed cocoa powder is still good for you.

Cacao grades

The proper processing steps can turn any cacao bean into a high-quality powder, but some beans are more desirable than others with an assigned grade [1].

Criollo is the most prized and rare type of cacao, accounting for only about 5% of the world's production in Central and South America, notably Venezuela.

These beans have a delicate, complex flavour profile with naturally low bitterness and acidity, making them suitable for high-end chocolates.

Forastero is a hardier variety with 80-90% of global production. It's more bitter than Criollo, but Dutch processing solves that.

A hybrid variety—Trinatario—from Trinidad combines the hardiness of Forastero with the delicate flavour profile of Criollo. It's a low-growing variety with a fruitier taste, sometimes a bit spicy compared to Forastero.

Cacao and cocoa in food products

What is The Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa Powder

Cacao and cocoa powder are sold as loose powders for use in food and drink.  

Different types of chocolate (dark, milk, white) are made by combining cacao mass (ground cacao beans) with other ingredients like cocoa butter, sugar, and milk (white chocolate gets its colour from milk solids).

Brownies, cookies, and pastries with chocolate also contain cocoa powder or cacao, which is used when a more bitter taste is desired.

The chocolate caramel version of vybey Complete Meal Powder contains 6% cocoa powder, a perfect ratio for a rich, chocolatey flavour. We use cocoa – not cacao – because we don't want any cocoa butter in the product.

Nutritional profiles

Cacao and cocoa are rich in minerals, including magnesium, iron, zinc, and potassium, and they are natural sources of caffeine.  

They also contain dietary fibre, protein, and healthy fats (mainly in cacao beans and nibs), giving them an excellent overall nutritional profile.

The main flavanols in cacao are epicatechin, catechin, and proanthocyanidins (which are chains of epicatechin and catechin).

These powerful antioxidants can help neutralise harmful free radicals in the body [2] and speed up your metabolism.

Is cacao healthy?

The nutritional content of cacao stacks up, but is it good for you? The answer is simple: yes, in moderation.

Cacao and cocoa products that are minimally processed and have a high cacao content, such as raw cacao nibs, cacao powder, or dark chocolate with a high percentage of cacao (70% or above), are considered healthy. 

Cacao is relatively high in calories, so it should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Also, processed chocolate products have added sugar and fat, which negates some of the potential health benefits.

Read the nutritional labels on cocoa products, especially chocolate bars, and look for products with higher cocoa content and lower amounts of added sugars and oils (oils are a cheap substitute for cocoa butter).

Healthy ways to get cacao include cocoa powder in low-calorie baked goods, vybey Complete Meal Powder (the chocolate caramel version), and loose powder, which you can add to your shakes and cereal in the morning.

Is cacao ethical?

Cacao is ethical, with certifications like Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ. Most chocolate products carry one of these labels.

Millions of people globally depend on the cacao industry for processing, transportation, and manufacturing jobs.

Many community development projects, such as building schools, healthcare facilities, and infrastructure, also depend on cacao.

Sustainable cacao farming practices, such as agroforestry and organic farming, also help conserve biodiversity and protect natural resources.

Summing up

What is The Difference Between Cacao and Cocoa Powder

Cacao and cocoa powder are easily mistaken but have clear differences:

  •         Cacao powder is minimally processed and made from roasted and ground cacao beans, retaining more nutrients and flavanols.
  •         Cocoa powder is more processed, with the cocoa butter removed, resulting in a less bitter taste and a lighter colour but lower levels of beneficial compounds.

Cocoa powder is a better ingredient for meal replacement shakes and other beverages, while cacao has a richer flavour profile for baked goods. However, cacao usually costs more, so cocoa powder is the more common ingredient.

You can enjoy the health benefits of cocoa powder with vybey. Grab a vybey starter pack to try our meal powders and nootropic supplements.


  1. National Library of Medicine
  2. National Library of Medicine