Cacao vs. Cocoa: What’s the Difference?

While they sound the same, they are in fact two very different things.

Wherever you stand on the cacao vs. cocoa debate, the same idea of chocolatey goodness probably comes to mind. While the terms are often used interchangeably, there’s actually a difference between cocoa and cacao.

Where do cocoa and cacao come from?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of cacao vs. cocoa, we need to understand where chocolate comes from. All chocolate products are derived from the cacao plant, which are clustered in pods and found on Theobroma cacao trees (fun fact: “Theobroma” means “food of the gods” in Greek). When you open up the pod, you’ll find a cacao bean. That bean is processed under low heat to remove the cacao butter and then milled into cacao powder. Cocoa, on the other hand, is made by removing the cacao butter with high heat before it is milled into cocoa powder.

What’s the difference between cocoa and cacao?

Cocoa is sweeter and better for baking, while cacao is thought to have more antioxidants because of the cold-processing. It’s also lower in calories, which makes it a favorite of keto dieters.

The cacao vs. cocoa debate can also be traced back to linguistics. According to Greg D’Alesandre, Chocolate Sourcerer at Dandelion Chocolate, “‘Cacao’ is the term generally used in Latin America and ‘cocoa’ is used more often in Africa. But over time, the distinction between ‘cacao’ and ‘cocoa’ has become one of the plant versus the product. Cacao is used to refer to the tree and its various parts. Once the seeds are fermented and therefore killed it is now an agricultural product and referred to as cocoa.” Now that we’ve answered the cacao vs. cocoa question, here’s the excuse you’ve been looking for to snack on your favorite chocolates more often.

Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published on Reader's Digest Canada

Brittany Gibson
Brittany Gibson is a regular contributor to’s culture, food, health, and travel sections. She was previously an editorial intern for and Westchester Magazine. Her articles have appeared on Buzzfeed, Business Insider, AOL, Yahoo, and MSN, among other sites. She earned a BA in English from the University of Connecticut.