What is the difference between Cacao and Cocoa?
Cacao beans and cocoa beans are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two. Cacao is the purest form of chocolate and refers to the plant species, Theobroma cacao, from which chocolate is made. Cocoa, on the other hand, is the term used for the processing and production of chocolate and other cocoa-based products.
What are Cacao Beans?
Cacao beans are harvested from the Theobroma cacao tree, which grows in tropical regions, primarily in South America, Africa, and Asia. The beans are removed from the pod and fermented, a process that develops the chocolate flavor and reduces bitterness. After fermentation, the beans are dried and then roasted to further develop the flavor. These beans are then referred to as cacao beans.
What is Cocoa?
Cocoa is cacao beans that have been processed to produce chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder. Once the cacao beans have been roasted, they go through the winnowing process, which means to coarsely grind the beans into small nibs where the outer shell is removed, and then ground into a paste to make chocolate. Cocoa powder is produced by heavily pressing the chocolate liquor to remove most of the cocoa butter resulting in just a powder being left. The powder is chemically alkalized to reduce acidity to improve flavor--or at least reduce bitterness. There is a movement gaining traction to use organic non-alkalized cocoa powder, as the alkalizing process destroys most of the nutrition in the chocolate.
Cacao is Pre-Process; Cocoa is Post-Process
In summary, cacao refers to the plant species and pre-processed cacao beans, while cocoa refers to the post-processed cacao beans to the point of already being chocolate. Both cacao and cocoa are essential ingredients in the production of chocolate and other cocoa-based products, and their unique flavors and properties are highly valued by chocolatiers and consumers alike.