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Cacao vs. Chocolate: What is the difference?

8 min read time Aug 24, 2022


You walk into the store and make a b-line down your favorite aisle to purchase what many believe to be the most incredible food on earth. 

Not only does it provide a unique selection of rare phytochemicals not found in most foods, but it makes you feel fabulous and has been linked to uplifting your mood. If you ask the average man or woman, they are proud to admit that at one time or another, they have used this fantastic food to nourish their mental and physical wellbeing. 

You walk down this magical aisle, and what seems like an endless giant wall filled with delicious and indulgent treats for every fickle pallet with endless varieties, qualities, and flavors to choose from, you might believe you are walking on the clouds in heaven. 

Yes, I am talking about cacao. 

But, if you have never had the pleasure of eating the actual pure unadulterated food, you may know or refer to it as cocoa or chocolate. 

The truth is that the terms cacao, cocoa, and chocolate are interchangeably used and give a false impression that they are all the same.  

Would it surprise you to learn that only one food can genuinely be called cacao, and the majority of what you see on that wall is just sweeter indulgent versions created from this authentic food, but, in the end, they are just imposters?   

Hang on to your seats because I am about to take you on an extraordinary journey so you can more clearly understand the differences between what tribes, ethnobotanists, and shamans call “The Food of the Gods” and consider to be:

One of the greatest foods on earth; Cacao, and the multitude of varieties produced from this food known as chocolate.


In simple terms, cacao beans are the rawest, most pure, and unadulterated form of what you may know as chocolate.

Dark Chocolate: The transitional food

You may have noticed that many “Dark Chocolate'' bars show a wide variety regarding the percentage of cacao solids it contains. Cacao solids are the components of the cacao bean remaining after the fatty portion (aka butter) has been extracted. 

The amounts of cacao solids can range anywhere from 70%-95%. It may surprise you to find out that companies can claim their products as “Dark Chocolate '' with as little as 50% cacao solids in their product because every country has its own standards. 

The remaining percentage of all these bars is often sugar used to sweeten and dairy used as an emulsifier. Some exceptions may use stevia or Luo Han Guo as the sweetener and leave more of the cacao butter in the product to fill the gap and give it a more decadent and indulgent flavor and texture.

Much like your morning cup of coffee, the purest form provides the most significant benefits 

The more sugar and artificial sweeteners (see our sweeteners here) you add, your body may have to work more to derive the benefits. Whether eaten whole or milled into a powder, the cacao bean has a rich and bitter flavor profile. To the untrained pallet, this may be an acquired flavor and take some time to get used to, so using the percentage-based dark chocolate products may be an excellent way to help your pallet transition into the authentic flavor from cacao. The one thing that seems universally agreed upon is that products with 70% cacao solids should be your start-off point. Pure cacao provides you with the feel-good benefits that have been falsely associated with chocolate products low in cacao solids.      

Dutch and Alkalized

You may have seen terms like dutch or alkalized on a product label (you may know this as cocoa) and wondered what that means. They are the same process in which the cacao has been washed in potassium carbonate alkaline solution. 

This is done to reduce bitterness and PH levels and to neutralize the acidity, which completely changes the fl