Cocoa powder and cacao powder are almost always mistaken to be one and the same. Although they both originated from the same main source, the cocoa plant, they have their own peculiarities that set them apart. Hence, they should not be mistaken for one another.
However, in this article, we are going to be talking about cacao powder. So, what is cacao powder?
Cocoa powder is gotten from the cocoa beans when it is processed at a low temperature. When processed this way, the powder contains a higher amount of minerals, enzymes and nutrients. It tastes more bitter than cocoa powder but it is considered more natural and nutritional.
“Cacao” refers to any products derived from the cocoa beans that have remained raw. To make cacao powder, the cocoa beans are naturally fermented. Afterwards, it is cold-pressed, which involves separating most of the fat (cocoa butter). The left-over dried solids then get grounded and voila! there you have it, cacao powder. It should be noted that it contains a lot of flavour and nutrients as a result of being minimally processed, unlike cocoa powder.
Cocoa powder who looks very similar to cacao powder has its own differences brought about by some changes in the processing. Unlike cacao powder, cocoa powder is processed at a much higher temperature. Also, after it is fermented, it is roasted at a high temperature. This is what sets it apart from cacao powder. The roasting affects the molecular structure of the cocoa beans, lowering the nutritional value.
Cacao powder has higher antioxidant content than cocoa powder. It is the purest and most natural form of cocoa beans product you can consume. Cacao is said to be the highest source of magnesium and antioxidant in foods.
Also, cacao powder has higher calorie and fibre content than cocoa powder since it is directly processed from the whole cocoa bean. It is also a great source of natural carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, cholesterol-free saturated fats and monounsaturated fats.
Raw Cacao Powder
Raw cacao is the most natural and purest form of chocolate you can consume. It is way less processed and heated than cocoa powder, preserving its nutritional value. Raw cacao powder is a very healthy food filled with a lot of nutrients. One should definitely include this highly nutritious food in one’s diet.
Due to its high antioxidant contents, higher than any other foods, raw cacao powder helps to lower blood pressure, improve heart function and help in blood circulation. It is safe to say that consuming this puts your circulatory system in top shape.
In addition to this, raw cacao powder contains theobromine, which is a cardiovascular stimulant. This is a sure way to boost your energy without resorting to caffeine. Cacao powder gives you a good old but natural high.
Also, Cacao powder contains tryptophan which is lacking in its cocoa powder counterpart. Tryptophan is a heat-sensitive essential amino acid, which is killed in the roasting process of cocoa powder. However, it is contained in cacao powder and when consumed, is turned into serotonin and melatonin. These are stress-protective neurotransmitters and helps to reduce stress in the body.
Substitute for Cacao Powder
Cacao powder is the most natural and healthiest way to give your pastries an intense chocolate flavour. Sometimes, you may not be able to get your hand on one when you need it. Here are some substitutes to use if you want the intense flavour of cacao powder as well as the nutrients.
1. Cacao paste
Cacao paste adds the natural cacao taste and smells to your pastries without the bitterness that is natural to the cacao powder. Cacao paste is made with crushed cocoa beans that have been liquefied. The liquid then solidifies at normal temperature due to its high cocoa butter content. Since the process does not involve the use of heat, the nutrients are preserved and it is almost as good as cacao powder.
However, cacao paste contains fat, unlike cocoa powder. This should be taken into consideration and your recipe adjusted. Also, since cacao paste is like half cacao powder and half cacao butter, more should be used, than you would cacao powder.
2. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
Why not just go for normal cocoa powder, you asked? Well, Dutch-processed cocoa powder is a richer alternative. Since it has been washed in alkaline solution to neutralise its acidity, it is less bitter and tastes richer. This processed cocoa powder is darker in colour than any other type. It also has more antioxidants than cocoa powder even though it is not as much as cacao powder.
It should be noted that cacao powder is stronger than this processed cocoa powder, hence more should be used in your recipe. Also, since its acidity has been neutralised, it will not react with alkaline leavening agents like baking soda, and baking powder should be used instead.
3. Cocoa powder
Cacao powder’s close cousin is a great substitute. It is very similar but cacao powder but has been processed under very high temperature, which results in a less natural and nutritional substitute. It can be used exactly as cacao powder since its acidity is retained during processing. However, use twice as much in your recipe to get that intense cacao like flavour.
Cacao Powder Benefits
Cacao powder due to its very natural and pure state contains a lot of nutrients that are so beneficial and is sure to make you consider adding it to your diet. Here are some of them:
Decreases the risk of diabetes
Cacao powder contains flavonoids. This has been proved to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart and helps in preventing blood cloth.
Helps with inflammation
The flavonoids in cacao powder also help to reduce inflammation in the body. This helps to lessen the risk of having arthritis, cancers, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Improves gut health
Cacao powder contains fibre which promotes healthy digestion and lessens the risk of having irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive problems.
Lowers the risk of stroke
Cacao powder reduces the level of bad cholesterol in your body, which helps with thinning out the blood and improving the blood sugar level. These help to reduce the risk of having a stroke.
Improves brain function
Cacao powder contains polyphenols which improve blood flow to the brain and reduces the risk of having neurodegenerative diseases. Studies have shown that daily cacao intake can improve mental performance in people, with or without mental impairment.
Is cacao powder good for you?
Still, wondering if cacao powder is good for you? Well, it has a lot of nutritional and cosmetic benefits. At the same time, too much of everything is bad, hence there are some side effects you should watch out for.
Nutrition Benefits of Cacao Powder
Relieves asthma symptoms
Cacao powder contains anti-asthmatic compounds like theobromine and theophylline. Theophylline relieves asthma symptoms by helping the lungs to dilate well and helping the airway relax. Theobromine, which is similar to caffeine helps relieve persistent coughing.
Contributes to good oral health
Studies have shown that cacao powder contains some antibacterial and immune-stimulating properties that help one’s oral health.
Helps the skin
Long term use of cacao powder has been noted to contribute to skin blood circulation, hydrate the skin and improve the surface texture of the skin. The antioxidants found in cacao powder supports radiant-looking skin.
Reduces the risk of heart diseases
In recent studies, cacao powder has been found to contain a lot of potassium. Potassium helps to maximise the heart health and decrease the risk for diseases by reducing body inflammation and stress on the heart.
Studies have shown that eating food rich in cacao powder like dark chocolate reduces stress and optimises one’s physical and mental health.
Optimises brain function
Cacao powder contains epicatechin which optimises the brain health, by improving the blood flow and cognitive abilities. It also lessens the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Cacao powder contains magnesium. This is essential for strong bones and teeth, energy metabolism and healthy psychological function.
Cacao powder skin benefits
- With cacao powder being the food with the highest antioxidant, it helps protect your cells from oxidation and ageing. It nourishes the skin from the inside out. The high level of antioxidants helps to repair the skin from damage.
- Cacao powder also has anti-inflammatory properties that help to soothe the skin, help heal or prevent blemishes and improves the skin’s complexion.
- Cacao butter, natural oil that is derived from cocoa seeds, is high in omega 6 fats, a healthy fatty acid that helps rejuvenate the skin. It increases blood flow to the skin surface, making it healthy and radiant.
- Flavanols in cacao powder help to maintain the elasticity of the blood vessels, which keeps the skin vibrant and youthful.
- When applied externally, cacao powder calms, restores and rejuvenates the skin.
Cacao powder side effects
Eating too much of cacao powder might be toxic and have the following side effects.
- It is harmful to breastfeeding or pregnant women because it contains caffeine. Some studies have shown that high doses of caffeine in pregnancy can result in miscarriage, premature delivery and low birth weight. Caffeine in breastfeeding women can make the child irritable and results in frequent bowel movement.
- Theobromine, found in cacao is very harmful to dogs and cats and can kill them when ingested.
- Large amount of caffeine in cacao powder can worsen anxiety.
- It can trigger migraine reaction in sensitive people.
- It interacts negatively with many medications due to the high level of caffeine it contains.
- Caffeine in cacao powder may affect your sleep.