If you've recently visited the health food aisle of your grocery store, you've probably noticed cacao powder popping up everywhere. The pictures make it look just like the cocoa powder you use to make your gooey blender brownies

You're not being fooled, they didn't just change the spelling a bit and stick the same old cocoa powder next to the maca and goji. When it comes to choosing between cacao vs cocoa, their differences are import to know when figuring out which to use.

How They're Made

chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa
Jocelyn Hsu

Chocolate comes from the cacao plant, which is used to make both cacao and cocoa. That's why both have a similar look and smell, though the taste is different. The reason for that all comes down to the way the two are made. 

Cocoa powder, commonly used in baking, is made by fermenting, drying, and roasting the cacao bean. It's then pressed until all of the oils are separated out and the solids that remain are turned into a dry powder.

Cacao powder is made in a very similar matter. Cacao beans are still pressed to separate the oils and solids. However, when it's cacao powder being made, the beans are processed at very low temperatures. This is why cacao is often referred to as "raw," as the temperatures used are so low that it can still be considered raw. 

Whether it's cacao powder, nibs, or butter, any product with cacao on the label has been made using this "raw" process, while anything sporting the name cocoa has been heated.

Why It Matters

chocolate, coffee, cocoa, espresso, milk
Davi Lennon

It's long been said that chocolate and cocoa are actually good for you. The benefits of cacao have the potential to be even greater since it has higher amounts of all the things that make chocolate good for you, like iron, fiber, and antioxidants. Using lower temperatures means the plant retains more of its nutrients.

One type of antioxidant, flavonoids, are in both cocoa and cacao, but cacao has more since antioxidants are very heat sensitive. Flavonoids have been found to decrease inflammation, prevent blood clots, and decrease the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood.

The difference in temperature does cause cacao to taste different than the cocoa you're used to. Cocoa is much less bitter, making it the number one choice when it comes to baking sweet treats.

The way cacao and cocoa are made also effects their price. It's much harder to extract the fat and solids from the cacao plant when it's not roasted, so cacao products are usually more expensive than their cocoa counterparts.  

When to Use Which

chocolate, sweet, cake
Maddie Lanier

If you're in the store debating between cacao vs cocoa powder for when you bake your next cake, it's best to stick to whichever the recipe calls for. The two do have different consistencies, so the swap could lead to a famous baking failure. They also taste different, so when it comes to your go-to chocolate cake recipe, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

Most packages say you can make a one to one swap, but it's best to only do so when you're making something a little less dependent on the science of your ingredients. Recipes like smoothies, chocolate mousse, and other raw desserts are better suited for your cacao/cocoa swap.

pastry, cake, cream, sweet, chocolate
Danielle Cahoon

Some people will certainly swear by the health benefits of cacao, while others prefer the equally delicious and generally cheaper cocoa. When considering cacao vs cocoa, both deserve a place in your kitchen. Cacao nibs will forever be one of the most beautiful smoothie bowl toppings, but that classic cocoa powder is still the key to any classic chocolate cookie.