Strictly speaking there isn’t, with ‘cocoa’ probably simply being a spelling mistake way back that was never corrected and has stuck. There is a difference though in the way we pronounce them - cacao is ca - cow (like the animal) and cocoa co - co (as you'd expect!)
Today, although they are the same technically speaking, 'cacao' is more synonymous with healthy eating whilst 'cocoa' is usually associated with sugar laden chocolate bars with no nutritional value.
Cacao can be bought in a variety of forms. From a powder to cacao nibs and beans- they all make a great addition to smoothies, desserts, breakfasts or used as a natural, lactose free ingredient in baking.
Not only does this taste great, it looks impressive, too!
Cacao beans grow on trees – the Theobroma Cacao and originate from the Olmec people, from what is now known as Mexico. This prized cacao bean has followed an interesting path through history from the Olmec to the Mayans, to the Aztecs, to Spain and then into Europe and the rest of the world.
The Mayans grew the trees in their gardens, making it easy for them to enjoy drinking the seeds as a bitter but hot drink.
Mayan Cacao Grinder
With the dawn of the Aztecs, having taken over a large part of Mesoamerica, they quickly adopted this precious bean into their culture. They preferred it cold and seasoned it with a dash of honey or allspice and because it was difficult for them to grow the cacao trees in the Mexican hills, the beans became a precious commodity. Cacao seeds were requested as payment for taxes1 and they soon became popular as currency – a turkey would cost 100 cacao beans or an avocado 3 cacao beans!
Aztec Sculpture with Cacao Pod
In the 16th century, Spain conquered the Aztecs and Christopher Columbus brought the treasured cacao bean back to Spain where it grew in popularity - so much so that a thriving slave market ensued as many hands were needed to process this valuable bean.
Over time and with new techniques being developed, production methods improved and the well know company Nestlé eventually added a powdered milk to the cacao to make what we think as milk chocolate. They were soon competing with another new company called Cadburys, who set up in 1868.
As I’ve already mentioned, chocolate really does grow on trees!
Cacao Pods Growing
The beans grow inside a large pod which sprouts from the tree trunk and inside each pod is a layer of sweet pulp. This is where you’ll find the seeds or cacao beans (usually between 20 - 60 seeds in each pod).
The cacao tree prefers a warm year round climate which explains why they’re mainly grown nowadays in Africa and in particular Cote d’Ivoire, as well as The Dominican Republic.
Harvesting involves cutting the fully ripened pods from the tree with a machete and cutting into the pod. The pulp and seeds are then added to bins to allow a fermentation process2 to begin which produces a precursor to flavour. Once fermented, the beans are dried - this can be done in a variety of ways, to prevent mould growing. Those beans used to make Lucy Bee Cacao Powder are dried are wooden tables then roasted (with a maximum temperature of 45C).
Cacao has numerous nutritional compounds and is one of the richest sources of antioxidants of any food on the planet! Good news for all of us chocolate lovers!
This simple chocolate recipe is a real hit in our house – tasty, healthy and lactose free, too.
You can, also, add peanut butter to this or cherries, cranberries. Simply add before you pour the chocolate into the tin.
Being a natural product, it also has a much richer, fuller taste than many store-bought 'cocoa' powders. When making a hot chocolate with a natural cacao powder instead, you may experience a much different taste to normal. There is always the option to sweeten it to fit your tastes. Here at Lucy Bee, we've come to love (and prefer) the taste of natural cacao powder as our hot beverage!
Believe it or not, not all cacao powders are the same. Some powders on the market are still not in their most natural state and are processed, known as dutch processed powders.
What this means is that the cacao is initially soaked in potassium carbonate to reduce its acidity and bring its pH to a neutral 7. This also tends to result in a much darker coloured powder3.
Cacao and subsequently chocolate, is used worldwide to celebrate, whether it be eggs at Easter, chocolate coins for Hanukka, hearts at Valentines, or if you’re on a trip to Harrods, a visit to their chocolate café is a must for any chocolate lover!
We’ve got some scrumptiously satisfying recipes using cacao powder.
Raw Cacao Bites
These make a fantastic treat and are quite rich in taste so you don’t need too many of them – always a bonus!
(despite its name, buckwheat flour is gluten free so this recipe is gluten and lactose free)
This is a filling breakfast, perfect Sunday brunch or tasty dessert.
If you’re not already converted, give our cacao powder a try. It’s all natural and I’m sure that once you’ve tried ‘the real thing’ you won’t be tempted back to those sugary, uber-sweet chocolate bars.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
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At Lucy Bee, we’re passionate about a healthy lifestyle and feeling good through the foods we eat. Our website promotes the nourishing ingredients that we love plus tips for natural beauty and fitness.