When I started seeing things made with cacao, at first I just assumed that it was a more politically correct way of spelling cocoa. However, there is more to it than that. Although they look and sound very similar, these two products are actually quite different.
Cocoa beans come from Cocoa Tree fruit or pods. They are usually picked by hand and then split to get out the beans. Each pod can contain between 20-40 beans. The cocoa beans are then fermented, roasted and de-hulled. The beans are ground to produce cocoa mass (or cocoa liquor). This is then pressed to remove the cocoa butter and what is left behind is then ground to make powder.
You can get two sorts: natural cocoa powder or Dutched cocoa. Dutched cocoa is washed with a solution of potassium carbonate that takes the normally acidic cocoa to pH neutral. Dutched cocoa is darker coloured and has a smoother, richer flavour. So if you are using a recipe that uses baking soda as a raising agent, it is better to use natural cocoa because baking soda needs the alkalinity of the cocoa to react; you may however prefer the flavour or texture of baking with Dutched cocoa. In which case, it is better to use baking powder as the raising agent.
Raw cacao, however, is made by cold-pressing unroasted cocoa beans. In producing raw cacao powder, the temperature doesn’t go above 47°c so more of the anti-oxidants are retained… this means that cacao is better for you. It is, however, still a bit of a boutique product and its price reflects that. Also, the health benefits of something you eat in relatively small quantities are not very significant unless you are going to make other healthy lifestyle choices… but at least you can be well-informed about your food choices!
Here are some useful links:
The Benefits of Cacao
Natural Cocoa versus Dutched
Recipes using Cacao
Is chocolate good for you?
By the way, I didnt take the photo at the top of this post. It came from here.