Cocoa vs. Cocoa: What is the difference?

If you buy chocolate, you have probably noticed that some packages say they contain cocoa, while others say cocoa.

You may have even seen raw cocoa powder or cocoa seeds in health food stores, which leads you to wonder how they differ from standard cocoa powder and chocolate chips.

In some cases, there are important differences between such products. At other times, the only difference may be the marketing jargon chosen by the manufacturers.

This article tells you the difference between cocoa and cocoa and which is healthier.


Cocoa vs Cocoa Difference

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, or rather seeds, from the Theobroma cocoa tree. This plant produces large, pod-like fruits, each containing 20-60 beans surrounded by a sweet, sticky white pulp (1, 2, 3).

The content of the beans provides the basis for chocolate products. However, there is no complete agreement on when to use the terms cocoa and cocoa respectively.

Some experts use "cocoa" for pods, beans and milled grain content, reserving "cocoa" for the powder that remains after extracting the fat from the ground grains (1).

Manufacturers of raw (unroasted) or less processed cocoa products often use the word cocoa instead of cocoa, which may imply that they are more natural products.

The bean-to-bar chocolatiers, who make chocolate from scratch starting with fermented and dried beans, only use the word cocoa for pod and beans before they are fermented. After fermentation, they are called cocoa beans.

Given this variation in the use of terms, it is useful to understand how cocoa beans are processed.

Summary Chocolate is made from seeds (beans) in the pod fruit of the Theobroma cocoa tree. The use of "cocoa" instead of "cocoa" in chocolate products is inconsistent and varies by brand, so do not assume that one is better or different than another.

How cocoa beans are processed

The raw grains contained in the sticky matrix of the cocoa pod do not taste much like chocolate. Therefore, even raw cocoa products are not made with beans directly from the pod.

Rather, once the cocoa beans are harvested, they go through several processing steps. In summary, the basic process is (1, 4, 5):

  1. Fermentation: The beans (with some sticky pulp still attached) are placed in containers and covered for a few days so that the microbes that feed on the pulp can ferment the beans. This begins to develop the distinctive flavor and aroma of chocolate.
  2. Drying: The fermented beans are dried for several days. Once dried, they can be classified and sold to chocolate manufacturers.
  3. Roast: The dry beans are roasted unless a raw product is desired. Roasting more fully develops the chocolate flavor and gives them a little sweetness.
  4. Overwhelming: The grains are crushed and separated from their outer hulls, which results in pieces of cocoa called tips.
  5. Grinding: The seeds are ground, producing a liquor without alcohol. Now it is ready to be made in chocolate products.

To make cocoa powder, the liquor, which is approximately half fat in the form of cocoa butter, is pressed to remove most of the fat (3).

To make chocolate, liquor is often mixed with other ingredients, such as vanilla, sugar, more cocoa butter and milk (4).

The percentage of cocoa, cocoa or dark chocolate in a chocolate bar tells you the amount of cocoa powder and cocoa butter combined that are present. The specific proportion of each is usually a trade secret of the manufacturer (3).

Summary After the harvest, the cocoa beans are processed to develop flavor and texture. The percentage of cocoa, cocoa or dark chocolate in a bar usually tells you the total amount of cocoa powder plus cocoa butter.

Nutritional comparison of cocoa and cocoa products

When comparing the nutritional labels of products made from cocoa beans (whether raw or roasted), the biggest differences are in the content of calories, fat and sugar.

Below is a comparison of 1 ounce (28 grams) of some cocoa products (6, 7):

Sugar-free cocoa powder Sugar-free cocoa seeds Semi-sweet chocolate chips Dark Chocolate, 70% Cocoa
Calories 64 160 140 160
Grease 3.5 grams 11 grams 8 grams 13 grams
Saturated fat 2 grams 2.5 grams 5 grams 8 grams
Protein 5 grams 9 grams 1 gram 2 grams
Carbohydrates 16 grams 6 grams 20 grams 14 grams
Sugars Aggregates 0 grams 0 grams 18 grams 9 grams
Fiber 9 grams 3 grams 1 gram 3 grams
Iron 22% of the RDI 4% of the RDI 12% of the RDI 30% of the RDI

Cocoa products are excellent sources of several minerals, including selenium, magnesium, chromium and manganese, but often do not appear on nutrition labels (2).

In general, the darker the chocolate, that is, the higher the cocoa content, the higher the mineral content (2).

The comparison of nutritional labels will also not tell you the differences in antioxidant content, which may be affected by the variety of cocoa, growth conditions and processing methods.

In general, less processed cocoa to which less heat has been applied, such as raw cocoa, contains more antioxidants (3, 5).

Summary Cocoa products, such as sugar-free cocoa powder, seeds and dark chocolate, are rich sources of minerals. Raw, minimally processed cocoa products contain little or no added sugar and are higher in antioxidants than more highly processed products.

Benefits for health and risks of cocoa and cocoa

Cocoa beans and products derived from them are rich sources of beneficial compounds for plants, particularly flavanols, which have antioxidant, protective heart and anti-cancer properties, among other health benefits (2, 4).

Cocoa also contains iron that is easily absorbed by your body, unlike some vegetable sources of the mineral. Vegetarians and vegans can especially benefit from this, since their iron sources are limited (2).

Cocoa products also contain tryptophan, which is an amino acid that your body uses to make serotonin, a brain chemical that helps you relax (3).

Despite these benefits, remember that chocolate is high in calories. If you ate a 3-ounce (85-gram) whole chocolate bar, 70% chocolate, you would gain 480 calories, 24 grams of saturated fat and 27 grams of added sugars (7).

By choosing dark chocolate and sugar-free cocoa products as the tips, you can minimize the health risks associated with excessive sugar consumption, including weight gain and tooth decay (8).

Summary Cocoa products are distinguished by their plant compounds that fight diseases, easily absorbed iron and tryptophan that promotes relaxation. Still, they can be high in calories (and sometimes sugar), so enjoy them in moderation.

Taste and better uses of cocoa products

The choice of cocoa products will depend on your palate and how you use them.

For example, sugar-free cocoa seeds are healthier than standard chocolate chips, but you may find them too bitter. Consider mixing the two as you adapt.

As for raw cocoa powder, you can find its taste and quality superior to standard cocoa powder without sugar. However, raw cocoa powder usually costs more.

If you buy raw cocoa powder, remember that some of its antioxidants will be destroyed by heat if you bake with them. Consider adding it to a smoothie instead.

Try using raw cocoa tips in the dried fruit mix or other uncooked creations to avoid destroying antioxidants through heat.

Summary Less processed, unsweetened, and raw cocoa products can be bitter, but you can get used to the flavor. If you buy raw cocoa products, understand that baking will destroy some of its rich antioxidants.

The bottom line

The use of "cocoa" versus "cocoa" in chocolate products is inconsistent.

In general, raw cocoa products, made from fermented cocoa beans, dried and unroasted, are less processed and healthier.

Even so, standard dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa is a good source of antioxidants and beneficial minerals.

Therefore, choose the products rich in cocoa that best suit your palate and budget, but enjoy them in moderation, as they are all high in calories.

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