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Cacao vs Cocoa: What's the difference?

Cocoa vs Cacao - are they even different? Let's learn what makes them unique and when to use one term over another.
Cacao vs Cocoa: What's the difference?

Cacao vs. Cocoa: What's the difference?

Have you ever wondered why some packages are labeled 'cacao' and others 'cocoa'? What defines each? Are they really that different? Let's dig in a little bit and find out!

A Ripe Cacao Pod on a Cacao Tree

What is chocolate made from?

Chocolate requires one specific ingredient to be called chocolate. Regardless if we're talking about white, milk, or dark, it has to contain cacao or a derivative of the aforementioned.

It all stems from theobroma cacao, or cacao tree, which is a small evergreen tree found in tropical regions, 20 degrees north and south of the equator.

The cacao tree produces fruit, commonly called a cacao pod. It has a unique shape resembling a football. The size, shape and colour is largely determined by the varietal. On average, these pods are 15 to 25cm in length and contain 40 to 60 cacao seeds. The seeds are surrounded by the flesh of the fruit, and when fresh can taste sweet and slightly tart, which reminds us of lychee.

When these seeds are fermented and dried, they are called cacao beans. These beans are used either in part or whole to make chocolate. For example, our Madagascar 70% uses the whole bean, whereas our White 36% Baking Chocolate has cocoa butter, but no solids (not sure what we mean? Read This).

Katie Holding Cacao Beans at Soul Chocolate


It's all in the processing

Envision a long line with a divide right in the middle. Everything to the left of the divide is considered cacao, and everything to the right is cocoa. 

On the left we have the tree, the football like pods, the sweet yet tart fruit, and the seeds. We would consider these as raw, unprocessed goods. When referencing these, we would use the term 'cacao' (cacao pod, cacao tree, etc).

On the right of the divide we have the roasted beans, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and the many other products that exist. We would consider these as more processed goods. Here we would use the term 'cocoa'.

As you can see, these two terms are used based on how the product has or hasn't been processed. A good rule of thumb is before roasting we say cacao, and after roasting we say cocoa. 

Admittedly, we love saying the word 'cacao'. You'll find it all over our website, throughout our product descriptions, and you'll even hear it if you come by our shop. It's a funky and weird word which opens up the opportunity for us to teach the differences between the two terms, which is a huge win in our books!

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