a bowl of cacao beans and cacao powder

What is Cacao? Plus How to Use this Superfood

April 11, 2016

Cacao pops up in a lot of healthy recipes but it can be easy to mix it up with the ever-familiar cocoa most of us grew up with. So what is cacao and what is the difference between cacao and cocoa? This form of chocolate in the purest form is actually a superfood, and good for us - it boasts so many health benefits. Here's why you should be eating more cacao.

What is Cacao?

So what is cacao exactly? Cacao (pronounced Ka-Kow) is one of nature's most potent antioxidant superfoods. Cacao beans can be found on trees in Central and South America. Cacao is the core ingredient of chocolate and when consumed in its raw unprocessed state, is extremely rich in nutrients and health benefits (when processed it becomes chocolate and cocoa). 

Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can consume, which means it is raw, slightly bitter in taste and much less processed than cocoa powder or chocolate bars. Cacao is thought to be the highest source of antioxidants and magnesium of all foods. It can be gotten in powder form and as nibs and is also available as a butter. 

Cacao Butter

Cacao Butter is the fattiest part of the fruit and makes up the outer lining of the inside of a single cacao bean. It is white in color and has a rich, buttery texture that resembles white chocolate in taste and appearance.

Cacao Nibs

Cacao Nibs are simply cacao beans that have been chopped up into edible pieces, much like chocolate chips without the added sugars and fats. Cacao nibs contain all of the fiber, fat, and nutrients that the cacao bean does.

What is Cocoa?

Cocoa is the term used to refer to the heated form of cacao that most of us probably grew up buying at the store and most readily available in the form of cocoa powder.

Though cocoa in some ways may seem inferior to raw cacao, it is still a rich source of fibre and has some protein in it as well. However, be sure you buy plain organic cocoa powder, not cocoa mixes which often contain sugar.

The Health Benefits of Cacao

Cacao has been hailed as a superfood thanks to its many health benefits. It's a brilliant source of magnesium, iron as well as flavanoids and polyphenols (natural plant compounds with antioxidant properties). 

  • Flavanoids have been linked to so many health benefits including lowering cholesterol which in turn help prevent heart disease
  • The flavanoids in cacao can help with blood flow and supply to the brain, improving cognitive function
  • Cacao is full of fibre which is important for gut health
  • It can boost your mood thanks to its plant compound phenylethylamine
  • It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help balance blood sugar, and lower your risk of diabetes

How to Use Cacao

Cacao has so many uses. Toss some cacao nibs in to flapjacks, homemade granola or oatmeal cookies for an antioxidant boost. Or stir some cacao nibs or powder into your porridge, overnight oats or yoghurt.

You can also use cacao powder in smoothies, energy bars and protein balls or if you're a dessert fan, enjoy some treats using raw cacao like mousse or brownies.

If you're looking to sweeten it up, combine with the likes of honey, maple syrup or pair it with berries or banana for a slightly sweeter kick. We love the idea of whipping up a delicious hot chocolate with cacao powder to keep you toasty come winter time. Here's a recipe worth trying:

Cacao Hot Chocolate Recipe

If you're looking for a yummy winter drink you won't feel bad about sipping, this cacao powder hot chocolate recipe is a winner. 


  • Approx. 500ml of milk of choice - almond, oat or coconut would work great
  • 2 tablespoons of cacao powder
  • 1 tablespoon of maple syrup or honey to sweeten
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • a tiny pinch of sea salt


1. Add all the ingredients to a saucepan and whisk the cold ingredients until smooth to avoid clumping.

2. Keep stirring until smooth on a medium heat.

3. Serve piping hot in a large mug with your topping of choice - dark chocolate shavings or cream/dairy-free cream if you're looking to go all out.

Shop cacao powder, cacao nibs and cacao butter on Evergreen.ie

Please note, this blog is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice.

It’s always best to consult your doctor before taking any new supplements, treatments or remedies if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or on medication.

Do you want to know more about some of our favourite superfoods? Then read our blog 'The Health Benefits of Turmeric' to learn all about this super-spice!

Checked and updated: 2 September 2021