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Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best cacao powders

Did you know chocolate can be good for you? Cacao powder — derived from cocoa beans — is consumable chocolate in its most natural, raw form. This superfood is packed with nutrients you may not normally associate with chocolate, such as magnesium, fiber, and iron. Cacao is the base for chocolate products. When it’s processed into cocoa, the main ingredient in most chocolate treats, it loses most of its nutritional value. Unlike many cocoa powders, cacao powder has no added sugar while maintaining a rich chocolate taste.

You can use cacao powder as a healthy replacement to cocoa powder in any recipe. You can add the powder to a smoothie to give it a chocolate milkshake-like flavor without the sugar or dairy. Cacao powder also provides a burst of energy. While cacao contains little to no caffeine, it does contain theobromine, a natural stimulant that works like caffeine, but without the jitters and inevitable crash.

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Because cacao powder is less processed than cocoa powder, it is more nutrient dense.

What is cacao?

The use of cacao as food and medicine dates back 3,000 years to its earliest cultivation in Mesoamerica. Cacao is harvested from large, pod-like fruits that grow on the Theobroma Cacao tree, meaning “food of the gods.” Inside these pods are cocoa beans. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted (unless the product is raw), then crushed to make cacao nibs. Cacao powder is produced when these nibs are ground. Raw cacao is made from unroasted beans.

Nutrient profile of cacao powder

Cacao products like nibs and powder are considered superfoods because they’re packed with phytonutrients. Cacao powder is rich in minerals such as magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, zinc, chromium, selenium, and manganese. It is high in fiber, but also high in fat. It contains a decent amount of protein while being low in carbohydrates.

Cacao is plentiful in antioxidants, especially a type called polyphenols. It has more antioxidants than tea, blueberries, red wine, and goji berries. What’s more, cacao is packed with flavanols, beneficial plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

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Did you know?
The high antioxidant content of cacao powders protects against free radical damage, which may reduce the risk of cancer and promote cellular repair of the skin.
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Cocoa powder vs. cacao powder

Cocoa powder is generally more processed than cacao powder and undergoes a higher temperature during the roasting process. Cocoa powder still has many of the same phytonutrients as cacao but is less nutrient dense — particularly in antioxidants — because it is heat processed (anything heated over 104℉ starts to lose its nutritional value).

Many cocoa powders are also mixed with sugar and even dairy. Be aware that although raw cacao powder is rich and chocolatey to the taste, it’s also bitter. Further, cacao powders are more expensive than cocoa powders. For these reasons, cocoa powders are often favored in recipes. You can substitute cacao powder for cocoa powder in recipes in a 1:1 ratio, but the flavor of your finished product will be much less sweet with cacao.

Benefits of cacao powder

Promotes cardiovascular health

Antioxidants in chocolate are known to support heart health, and cacao exceeds the antioxidant content of dark chocolate. Antioxidants reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

Maintains muscle and nerve function

Raw cacao is a magnesium-rich food. Magnesium is a mineral essential to our nerves and muscles, and it keeps our heart rate steady.

Elevates mood

Cacao can stimulate neurotransmitters in the brain that produce more focus and awareness (phenylethylamine) and bliss (anandamide). It also allows more happiness-inducing serotonin to circulate in your brain.

Expert Tip
If you’d like to swap cacao powder for any cocoa powder in your recipe, you might want to add a bit of extra sweetener. If so, opt for something on the natural side like stevia.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

May reduce high blood pressure

The flavanol epicatechin contained in cacao may reduce blood pressure by improving nitric oxide levels in the body.

Enhances relaxation

Cacao contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps your body relax.

Improves brain function

We already know the stimulant theobromine in cacao has a caffeine-like effect to give you an energy boost. The polyphenols and flavanols will improve brain function by increasing blood flow to the brain. This may have a positive effect on neurodegenerative diseases as well.

Constipation relief and weight loss

The high fiber in cacao (9 grams per ounce) will keep your bowels moving and help you feel full, promoting weight loss.

Other health benefits of the flavanols in cacao are promising in preliminary studies, including its anti-cancer properties, improvements to asthma, and reduction in the risk of diabetes, as it helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels

Expert TIp
If you’re working out or simply want the most nutritious option for chocolate flavoring, Cacao is the way to go. It’s unroasted, so retains a high measure of nutrients and performance-enhancing energy.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Cacao powder facts

  • Raw cacao has not been heated and/or is minimally processed. Select cacao powders labeled raw for the most nutrient dense product.
  • Organic cacao powders are widely available. The cocoa beans are cultivated without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and other chemicals.  
  • Fair trade cacao powders ensure the workers involved in the manufacturing of the product get a living wage. These are generally ethically sourced as well.
  • If you’re on a gluten-free diet, select products that are certified gluten-free. Cacao powders are naturally gluten-free but can be manufactured in facilities that process wheat products, so if you have an allergy, be sure to select gluten-free cacao powders.
  • Vegan certified cacao powders contain no animal products. Although cacao is naturally vegan, it’ll bring you peace of mind to know for sure that your cacao contains no animal byproducts, including dairy.

Cacao powder prices

Cacao powders come in resealable bags or jars. They come in quantities of 1, 2, or 5 pounds, and also 8, 12, 16 or 32 ounces.

Inexpensive

Inexpensive cacao powders are $0.36 to $0.53 an ounce. These may or may not be organic.

Mid-range

Mid-priced cacao powders range from $0.62 to $0.94 an ounce. These are usually organic.

Expensive

High-end cacao powders range from $1.00 to $1.50 an ounce. These are raw, organic cacao powders that may feature high manufacturing standards, like kosher or gluten-free.

Expert Tip
Cacao powder looks and tastes amazing on top of latte foam or for rolling sweet chocolate truffles. It’ll add a mildly bitter edge to the flavor of your final product and enhance the look.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Tips

  • For a really flavorful cacao, choose a powder that’s high in fat (as much as 24%). You’ll probably use less if it tastes better, if fat is a concern for you.
  • You can substitute sugary hot chocolate or caffeine-laden coffee for traditional drinking chocolate. Simply heat a cup of milk or water until bubbles appear. Promptly remove from heat. Whisk in 2 to 3 tablespoons of cacao powder. Heat again and then whisk a second time.
  • Adding milk to cacao may inhibit the absorption of antioxidants. This is why dark chocolate is generally considered better for you than milk chocolate.
  • If you like your smoothies or baked goods with a little crunch or texture, cacao nibs have the same nutrient dense profile as powder. Be aware that baking will reduce the antioxidant content of raw cacao.
  • Add cacao powder to your sauces, like mole or pasta sauce, or even to your chili. Impress your dinner guests with this secret ingredient.
  • Sprinkle cacao powder on top of yogurt (frozen or regular) or cereals (hot or cold) to add a healthy chocolate flavor.
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Cacao powders are compatible with Keto, vegetarian, and vegan diets.

FAQ

Q. What’s the difference in taste between raw cacao, cocoa powder, and Dutch-processed cocoa?

A. Dutch-processed cocoa is a cocoa powder commonly found in grocery stores. It has been treated with a chemical solution to make it taste less bitter and darken its color. This processing makes it less acidic and richer in taste than regular cocoa powders. If you’re looking for a mild-tasting chocolate powder, Dutch-processed is your best bet. Regular cocoa powders are processed with heat and if unsweetened, can also be quite acidic, which is why many baking recipes call for baking soda, an alkaline ingredient. Raw cacao powder has the most bite out of the three — it can taste quite bitter. Some users like to add stevia, a natural sweetener, when using cacao.

Q. How much cacao powder is in a serving size?

A. Generally a serving size of cacao powder is 1 to 2.5 tablespoons, which is the amount we recommend adding to a smoothie or drink. This will provide 10 to 25% of your recommended daily value of magnesium and up to 700 mg of flavanols.

Q. Is there anyone that shouldn’t consume cacao?

A. Theobromine makes up 1 to 2% of cacao powder and dilates blood vessels as it stimulates the nervous system. This is too much for humans sensitive to caffeine. If you have anxiety or sleep problems, cacao powder can negatively affect those issues. Be aware that cacao powder also contains a high amount of fat and calories if you’re on a restrictive diet. Some people have an allergic reaction to chocolate — if this is you, avoid cacao powders altogether.

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