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Moving from chocolate to Cacao: Learn the differences and similarities here.

Do you ever have cravings for chocolate and feel guilty about it?


What if I told you that there was a way for you to not feel that way, and enjoy the pleasure of consuming chocolate?

 

So, if you want to learn more about these two super alternatives, their benefits, and different ways to add them to your diet, here’s my ultimate guide to all things cacao.

 

Why we crave chocolate

 

Food cravings are common, especially foods high in sugar and fat that are well-established in this nutritional research. As a food high in both sugar and fat, chocolate is one of the most commonly craved foods in America.

 

If you're anything like me, you might wonder, "Why do I consistently crave chocolate?" I have an incredibly sweet tooth, but it tends to only be chocolate, and I started to wonder why… I was super intrigued to find out if there was any psychology or science behind it that could back up my cravings. So, in order to investigate why I crave chocolate, I did a little research.

 

Chocolate makes me happy!

 

The first thing I realized when eating chocolate was that it made me happy, and I wanted to understand why. 

 

Eating chocolate actually releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, into particular regions of the brain: to be specific, the frontal lobe, hippocampus, and hypothalamus.

 

Some scientists originally thought that chocolate actually had some of the compounds that activate the dopamine system directly (like drugs or cigarettes), but a study showed that just consuming the chemicals of chocolate was not enough to curb cravings, the experience of eating chocolate was necessary as well.

 

This is where stress relief comes in. When dopamine is released into your brain when you eat chocolate, it can actually lower your levels of stress. This is why people often crave chocolate in stressful situations or want it when they’re in need of comfort or reassurance. Has this happened to you? Because it sure has happened to me.

 

Emotions play a huge role in the craving for chocolate. Here’s a great example, when you’re sick, you usually want soup, am I right? 

 

In all honesty, I associate chocolate as comfort food, when I'm feeling down, stressed, or not myself, and I use it as a mood booster. A study in 1996 showed that chocolate caused the release of endorphins in the brains of American women, making them feel happy.

 

Difference between chocolate, cacao, and cocoa

 

Chocolate comes from the tropical cacao tree. The cacao bean, the rawest form of chocolate, can be harvested and consumed directly (cacao), roasted and turned into (cocoa) powder, or made into chocolate.

Keep in mind that the health benefits of chocolate often are referring to chocolate that has properties closer to raw cacao, and rarely apply to the classic chocolate bar, such as Kit Kat.

 

Difference between cacao and cocoa

 

Cacao and cocoa look the same, but the difference lies in how they’re processed. Cacao is raw/unprocessed while cocoa has been heated/processed.

 

Raw cacao can take some getting used to. It tastes a little different than cocoa products and can be slightly bitter. Try mixing it with another snack, like mixed nuts, smoothies, oats (we will get into recipes soon) to ease it into your diet.

 

The level of nutrients in cacao and cocoa products can vary, based on how they were made. Go for a product made with minimal processing to enjoy the full benefits. You know which one I’m talking about correct? CACAO, of course!

 

Swap chocolate for cacao!

 

I know what you’re thinking, “ARE YOU CRAZY”? I promise I'm not… Cacao is an amazing alternative to chocolate thanks to its amazing benefits, and I mean… after all, it’s a superfood.

 

Want to dive into the benefits and nutrition of cacao? SURE, let’s do this.

 

Cacao nutrition

 

Cacao beans offer fiber, monounsaturated "good" fats, and minerals such as potassium, and magnesium, according to an article in the journal Frontiers of Immunology. “Cacao is also packed with antioxidants”, specified by Annamaria Louloudis, M.S., R.D.N., registered dietitian and founder of Louloudi Nutrition; it also offers vitamin D, an essential nutrient that supports calcium absorption, according to findings in the journal Food Chemistry.

 

Cacao nibs and powder both can provide us with a range of health-enhancing benefits but despite their similarities, they’re considerably different products with very different ways of use, and this is something you should keep in mind.

 

If you’re faced with making a choice between them, you’ll need to consider factors like the ways that they differ and the best ways to use each of them.

 

Let's talk about the difference between cacao nibs and powder because as products of the same plant, they have a lot in common.


The Theobroma cacao tree, a tropical evergreen native to the Americas, from which both of them come from, has been cultivated for thousands of years. Both are nutrient-dense and provide the pure flavor of unprocessed chocolate, which means that they can be fairly bitter.

 

How do cacao nibs differ from cacao powder?

 

I’m going to start off with cacao nibs. They´re small pieces of crushed cacao beans with a similar texture and taste to a roasted coffee bean.

 

These chocolatey and bitter flavoured nibs are loaded with nutrients and powerful plant compounds that have been shown to benefit health in many ways. They're exceptionally rich in antioxidants and can help reduce stress, inflammation, heart disease, diabetes, as well as other health benefits. Need more resources? No worries, I’ve got you covered, check out this highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health: PubMed Central.

 

Now it’s time to let the powder shine. This product, on the other hand, has the fat, aka the cacao butter, removed, leaving this powder with a rich, subtle and bitter taste. Cacao powder is also an excellent source of iron, fiber, protein, potassium and magnesium.

 

“It’s hard to capture enough magnesium in our diet from food alone, and this mineral helps regulate more than 400 processes in our bodies,” says Taylor Fazio, a registered dietician and wellness advisor at the Lanby, a concierge-style primary care practice in New York City.

 

In addition to supporting cardiovascular health, magnesium helps with blood sugar control, nerve, muscle function, making bone, protein, and DNA, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

 

Fazio recommends adding cacao to our diet a few times a week, by sprinkling cacao powder or nibs on oatmeal or in a smoothie. (I will get into a few good recipes shortly, don’t worry).

 

Let the cravings and the guilt be gone

 

Now the entertaining part comes in, with a couple of recipes we won't have to feel guilty anymore for eating delicious chocolate goodness, especially when it’s super nutritious and healthy.

 

When should you use cacao nibs and cacao powder?

 

Both forms of this superfood can be used in a huge variety of sweet treats and savory snacks. However, they’re not interchangeable. Here're some of the best uses for these two cacao products, trust me, you can’t go wrong.

 

If you like extra dark chocolate chips, cacao nibs are a perfect swap for you (they were for me by the way). They can be used in chocolate chip cookie recipes, on top of oatmeal or a smoothie bowl, in a granola recipe. Honestly, just go nuts, you won’t regret it.

 

On the other hand, cacao powder in other words “superfood”, can be used anywhere, such as in brownies, cakes, hot chocolate, smoothies, sauces, or another tip I highly recommend… enjoy cacao powder in a warm morning drink to replace your coffee.

 

If you’re keen to incorporate cacao nibs and powder into a variety of dishes and drinks, here’s some ideas to get started with (see I told you I would share the goods with you).

 

CHOCOLATE SMOOTHIE BOWL


It tastes like dessert but is actually packed with protein, nourishing, and energizing properties, and guess what? This recipe contains both products, cacao powder, and nibs! Sounds amazing or what? Best of both worlds, I know. Find the full OMG recipe here.

 

CACAO SMOOTHIES

 

Adding cacao powder to your smoothies couldn’t be easier. Just a couple of tablespoons is more than enough to feel the benefits. 

 

Combining cacao with fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries is a well-loved combo.

 

Blend with some milk or even greek yogurt for substance, and you’ve got a delicious, benefit-packed smoothie.

  

CACAO BAKED TREATS

 

Every now and then, we all need a sweet, baked treat, and when you do, you can easily add cacao powder to whatever you’re making, such as brownies. Talking about brownies, click here for my favorite OMG recipe.

  

CACAO HOT CHOCOLATE

 

The ultimate indulgence on a cold night is simply adding 1 cup of your favorite milk with 1-2 tablespoons of cacao powder and an organic natural sweetener. Heat up, and you’ve got a deliciously warm hot chocolate! 

 

​​Did you know that cacao is recognized for being a 1:1 substitute for chocolate in many recipes, offering vegans an alternative to the most amazing recipes, and giving you a boost of pure goodness nutrients in every serving? Well, that is 100% true my friend!

 

The bottom line: Cacao nibs or cacao powder, which should you buy?

 

People have used and enjoyed cacao for thousands of years. When consumed in moderation, adding cacao into your diet can give your body a powerful blend of healthy nutrients.

 

Whether you choose to buy cacao nibs or powder depends entirely on how you plan to incorporate the superfood into your recipes, both have spectacular benefits, are super easy to use, and can play a really important role in a delicious, balanced diet.

 

So, I now have my answers to the question of why I crave chocolate, and understand why I'm always so happy afterwards, which isn't necessarily a downside. Plus, with all these benefits, you can enjoy your chocolate without any guilt. Just try them already, you’ll love both products for sure. Happy eating! 

 

I Hope differentiating both products has been helpful. If you have any questions remember you can always get in touch with us through our social media channels, @instagram, @pinterest, @facebook or send us an email at hello@omgsupefoods.com

Have a great week!