Cacao, Cocoa And Ceremonial Cacao: What's The Difference?

For many people cacao and cocoa are not the same thing, nor are they processed the same way. While ceremonial cacao holds a more spiritual meaning.
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If you're reading this, you're probably a chocolate lover much like myself. Dark, milk, or white, it doesn't matter you probably like them all.

Now, I know many shy away from dark chocolate just like I do with white chocolate.

Still, no matter what type of chocolate you choose, it is a product that sells around $98 billion dollars worldwide each year, according to Statista

The International Cocoa Organization or ICCO estimated that "the organic cocoa market represents a very small share of the total cocoa market, estimated at less than 0.5% of total production".

At the same time, the ICCO admitted that global organic chocolate sales were estimated to have increased from a value of US$171 million dollars in 2002 to US$ 304 million dollars in 2005.

But, what is the difference between normal and organic chocolate? I mean, isn't chocolate just chocolate? 

According to experts in the subject, cacao and cocoa aren't necessarily the same thing nor are they processed the same way. 

Benefits and differences between cacao and cocoa
Image Credit: Joyous Health

Cacao vs Cocoa: Main Differences

In modern days, cacao can be seen as the basic ingredient in chocolate.

But, recently we have been hearing more of the terms "cacao" and "cocoa" as if they were referring to different things. This is because cacao, in some cases, is considered to be the "organic" or "raw" version of cocoa.

According to Marsha McCullock, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, the words cacao and cocoa are used inconsistently and interchangeably. Due to them being used to sometimes refer to the process the cacao beans go through or the words that the manufacturers want to use for packaging and marketing.

Despite this, sites like One Green Planet and All recipes (both food and recipes sites), make a distinction between cacao and cocoa. In both cases, the cacao beans are separated from the cacao butter and fermented.

Both sites coincide in that, in order for the product to be designated as cacao,  it must be dried and overall processed at low temperatures to later be crushed into powder or cut into smaller pieces called cacao nibs.

On the other hand, cocoa is roasted and processed at much higher temperatures and may or may not have sugar and dairy added to it.

So, the difference here is the temperature it is processed under and the additional ingredients that may be added after like sugar and dairy.

The problem with higher temperatures though, is that they reduce the nutrients and minerals that the cacao has, although it still retains some, as stated by McCullock in her article.

Another difference between cacao and cocoa is the price, where cacao will usually go at a higher price than cocoa because of the rawness that the cacao keeps after it is processed.

cacao and cocoa
Image Credit: Freepik

Some Nutrients, Health and Medicinal benefits of cacao

When it is near raw form, cacao is an excellent source of minerals and antioxidants.

According to McCullock, cacao is rich in iron and flavonols, that have anti-oxidant, heart-protective, and anti-cancer properties. McCullock also states that cacao contains tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin the "happy chemical", which contributes to producing happiness in the person.

WebMD, lists lower blood pressure, reduced diabetes risk, reduced heart disease risk, reduced inflammation and reduced risk of digestive problems; and promotion of healthy digestion as other benefits that cacao has on the body.

WebMD also states that cacao powder is an excellent source of iron, protein, magnesium, potassium, and fiber.

Still, cacao can contain many calories so it should be consumed in moderation. 

Ceremonial Cacao, what is it?

Ceremonial cacao is cacao but processed differently, as it uses the cacao butter instead of discarding it. Ceremonial cacao also has the particularity that it is used in spiritual rituals or ceremonies.

Romani Rose Pope, a healer, and herbalist describe the process in an article:

Ceremonial cacao is made by fermenting and lightly toasting or sun-drying the beans, then feeling the husks (usually by hand) and stone grinding them down to create a paste which is set into a block, nothing added, nothing removed. The bean's fat remains intact, helping to balance its stimulating properties and facilitate absorption over a longer period of time.

- Pope, 2017

You can see how ceremonial cacao is made below in a video created by CacaoLaboratory:

In addition to how it is made, ceremonial cacao businesses like Firefly Chocolate, say that for the cacao to be ceremonial cacao it also needs to have a certain energetic standard.

Firefly Chocolate, states that this energetic standard comes mainly from the land where the tree is cultivated and the beans are sourced; how the cacao beans are treated and the people handling them. 

As you can see there is an energetical, come could say even mystical and magical aspect to ceremonial cacao.

Ceremonial Cacao: How is it used?

Cacao ceremonies have been taking place for thousands of years in Mesoamerica. According to ChocoVivo, a ceremonial cacao company, the Mesoamericans consumed it in liquid form and used it in important rituals such as weddings, births, and sacrifices as an offering to the gods.

Nowadays, the newer generations that are learning about cacao ceremonies mostly use it for meditation, self-reflection, gratitude, setting intentions, etc. People may choose to have a cacao ceremony by themselves or with a group.

Whatever you decide though, it is always encouraged to get to know the cacao and make the ceremony all your own.

A writer with a love for hot chocolate and rainy days. Has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and is experimenting with fantasy writing.

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