Cocoa, Cacao & the Difference Between Them

Ever wondered the differences between cocoa and cacao? Both cocoa and cacao powder are the products of the cocoa bean but they are different in many ways. As a result, the existing paranoia between them is often caught up in a debacle on which is better than the other.  However, it is obvious that they differ in appearance, taste and odor. These differences present are mainly due to the different processing methods that they were exposed to. Cacao is known for its unique astringent odor and bitter taste whereas cocoa is known for its sweeter taste and pleasant smell. By placing these 2 types of powder next to each other, an obvious difference in shade can be observed. So how the processing methods attribute to the differences between them?

Cacao is often referred to as “raw cacao” as it is the least processed amongst all different types of cocoa powder available commercially, thus it is often referred to as the “healthier option” for consumers. Processing methods often induce some form of chemical reaction to take place, thereby resulting in the different types of cocoa powder that are available in the market. There exist a notion where processed foods does not contain much health benefits as compared to unprocessed foods. To add on, the current emphasis on healthy living have further exacerbated the debate on cacao being the “healthier option”. So, to what extent is this claim valid?

To prove the validity of this claim, a study have been conducted with an aim to investigate the differences between raw and processed cocoa powder. There are 3 main types of cocoa powder available commercially; raw cacao powder, cocoa powder and Dutch cocoa powder. To ensure accurate and reliable results, a total of 9 samples were taken into consideration, with 3 samples from each type of cocoa powder that are available commercially. The data obtained from the study were analyzed using Principle Component Analysis (PCA) and chemical components from each sample were identified and classified according to their properties. Hence, from our analysis of the data, we were able to identify how raw and processed cocoa powder can potentially affect different groups of individuals. 

From our result analysis, a total of 415 chemical compounds have been identified across all 9 samples with a detection limit of 0.0053% of the total area. A conclusion have also been drawn on how cocoa and cacao can benefit and affect different groups of people. To summarize, the “health benefits” targeted at consumers may possibly be present only after regular and moderate consumption. At the same time, it is also worthwhile to note that both cocoa and cacao have the potential to bring about negative health effects to cocoa processing workers as well as residents living near cocoa processing factories. The constant exposure to cocoa powder can induce negative health effects due to the chemical constituents of cocoa. As a result, the health benefits and effects highlighted in the infographic below will summarize the positive and negative effects brought about by cocoa and cacao to the different target groups as mentioned.


 All results obtained were analyzed using ChemoPower’s software, SmartDalton™ and MoleculeDB™.

*Disclaimer: only volatile chemical components in each sample were analyzed, as a result, the data may not be an accurate representation of all the compounds that are present. 


Article written by Leoni 

Intern (NUS)

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