cocoa pod with chocolate chunks and cocoa seeds

What is the difference between cocoa and cacao?

Why Chocolate is the Perfect Gift Reading What is the difference between cocoa and cacao? 5 minutes Next Where does chocolate come from? The ultimate guide

Chocolate is one of the most beloved indulgences in the world – and it’s not hard to see why. Whether you enjoy rich dark chocolate or creamy milk chocolate there’s just something about this sweet confection that makes people happy. 

You may already know about the key ingredients in chocolate but do you know the difference between cocoa and cacao? Many people use these terms interchangeably, but there’s actually a big difference between the two. 

Let’s explore the differences between cocoa and cacao and how they lead to our favourite chocolate treats. 

Chocolate bars and cocoa pods

Cocoa vs cacao: the key difference

Have you ever noticed that some chocolate packaging will mention cacao in the ingredients while others will refer to cocoa? 

Both cocoa and cacao come from the same tree – Theobroma Cacao – however, the terms indicate how the tree’s seeds are processed.

In short, cocoa refers to the roasted and ground beans, while cacao refers to the raw, unroasted beans. The processing of cocoa involves fermenting, drying, roasting and grinding the beans, which helps to develop their flavour. 

Where does cocoa come from?

Theobroma cacao tends to grow in Central and South America, in tropical rainforest regions. However, you’ll also find cacao trees in West African countries like Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire and across tropical Asia

The cacao tree grows large yellow fruits (pods) that contain between 20 and 60 seeds. After harvesting the fruit, farmers ferment the seeds (also known as cacao beans) and leave them to dry in the sun. From here, chocolate makers can decide whether to roast the beans to create cocoa or use the cacao beans raw. 

While we might be used to cocoa as a central ingredient in our favourite chocolate, it wasn’t always solely an edible treat. Ancient Mayans valued Theobroma Cacao so much that they used cocoa beans as currency. In fact, did you know that Theobroma Cacao translates as “the food of the gods”?

How does cacao become chocolate?

After fermentation and drying, cacao beans need to go through several more steps before becoming the chocolate we know and love.

  1. Roasting

Cacao bean roasting is a key stage in the chocolate-making process. It helps release the cacao’s flavours (and aroma) and turns the beans a gorgeously rich colour. 

  1. Shell removal 

After the beans have been roasted, it’s time to remove their crisp shells. Once the husks are gone, the remaining content is known as ‘cocoa nibs’.

  1. Grinding

Next, chocolate makers grind the shelled cacao nibs into a paste. This part of the process heats and melts the cocoa butter within the nibs, creating what’s known as chocolate liquor.

  1. Cocoa butter separation

Although chocolate liquor can go on to make unsweetened chocolate, this can be a more acquired taste due to its bitterness. So, the next step is to separate the cocoa butter from the rest of the liquor. This results in compacted cocoa liquor that forms the base of chocolate.

  1. Adding the cocoa butter back in 

Here’s where the magic happens – controlled amounts of cocoa butter are added back into the chocolate liquor, along with other ingredients, depending on the type of chocolate being made. Dark chocolate may include just cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar, while milk chocolate will include milk or milk powder.

 Cocoa pods on the forest floor

What are cocoa solids?

Another term you may have seen on your chocolate packaging is ‘cocoa solids.’ What are cocoa solids, and why is it important to list them on chocolate bars?

Well, cocoa solids are the parts of the cacao bean left behind after extracting the cacao butter – the cocoa liquor we mentioned earlier.

The percentage of cocoa solids in a chocolate bar indicates how much cacao bean was used to make the chocolate. The higher the percentage, the darker and more intense the flavour. For instance, dark chocolate with a high cacao content will be rich, with deep cocoa notes. Milk chocolate with a lower cacao content, on the other hand, will be sweeter and lighter. 

You might be surprised to learn that white chocolate doesn’t contain any cocoa solids. Good quality white chocolate does, however, contain cacao butter which gives it a deliciously creamy texture.

Cocoa seeds and butter in bowls

Sustainable cacao and chocolate from Love Cocoa

As our name might suggest, we adore cocoa. From the humble beginnings of the cacao pod to the final melt-in-the-mouth bites of chocolate, we aim to use only the finest ingredients. As well as ensuring our chocolate tastes great, we also want to source our cacao responsibly. That’s why we work with suppliers that guarantee cocoa farmers higher than the market price and encourage replanting.

If you’d like to try some of our delectable, ethical chocolate, explore our full range of luxury bars, truffles and chocolate delivery gifts.