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Cacao or Cocoa?

Most people in Europe and North America know it as “cocoa”. In Latin and South America, it is “cacao”. But it is not merely a matter of a difference in language...

The words “cacao” and “cocoa” may sometimes be used interchangeably, and other times not. That is, depending on our use of the word “cocoa”, they may sometimes mean the same thing, but sometimes not. So what is the difference between cocoa and cacao?


The word “cacao” comes from the scientific name for the tree which produces the fruit and accompanying seeds that are used to make chocolate, or which can be used to make cocoa. The latin name for the tree, Theobroma cacao, translates literally to “Food of the Gods”. This name or label in turn stems back to the view and beliefs of the first ancient civilizations, the Maya and Aztec belief that cacao trees had been gifted to us from the gods and to partake of the fruit of the tree – to eat the cacao itself – was to raise ones spiritual awareness to a higher plane to allow us to directly commune with the gods (you can read more about Ancient Cacao from Cacao Eden to learn more).


Cacao then generally refers to the seeds of the cacao tree, which are generally used in one of the following ways: eaten raw, commonly purchased from your local health food store or online, after having been fermented and dried eaten raw, directly from the tree pod with or without the fruity flesh surrounding it whole, to create real pure chocolate separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder, or cocoa, to create derivative (standard commercial) chocolate and all sorts of other products.


Cocoa is a part of cacao, a portion of it that has been separated out of cacao. Cocoa is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “powdered ground roasted cacao beans from which a portion of the fat has been removed”, or “a brown powder made from roasted cocoa beans that is used to give a chocolate flavor to foods”. Cocoa is cacao that has had some or all of the butter, oils, fats, all the most nutrient-rich elements (see Health Benefits of Chocolate) removed.


Cacao and Cocoa come from the same source, but each are two different things.