Health Benefits of Cacao Powder

Originally domesticated in South America about 5,000 years ago, cacao trees can now be found in equatorial regions around the world. The beans from these trees are harvested to make both cocoa powder and its lesser-known counterpart, cacao powder.

Cacao beans develop flavor and texture through a fermentation process before heading for processing into either cacao or cocoa powder. To create cocoa powder, processors apply very high temperatures to the cacao beans, which produces that smooth, sweet taste that people enjoy in baked goods or hot cocoa. Cocoa powder is less bitter than cacao, but it loses some of its nutritional value during processing.

Cacao beans destined to become cacao powder and cacao nibs aren’t roasted at these high temperatures. Instead, they’re processed at low temperatures and then milled into a powder. Cacao powder is quite bitter, but retains more of the bean’s original nutritional value.

Cacao powder can be a healthier alternative for recipes that call for cocoa powder.

Health Benefits of Cacao Powder

The fiber in cacao powder promotes healthy digestion and can reduce the risk and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive problems.

Here are some other health benefits of cacao powder:

Lower Blood Pressure

Cacao powder is packed with flavonoids. These nutrients that have been shown to help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain and heart, and aid in preventing blood clots.

Reduced Diabetes Risk

The flavonoids in cacao powder may help increase insulin sensitivity, reducing your risk of diabetes.

Reduced Heart Disease Risk

Cacao powder contains lots of potassium. Potassium has been shown to decrease risk of heart disease by reducing lower body inflammation and stress on cells.

Reduced Inflammation

The flavonoids in cacao powder can help to reduce inflammation throughout your body. Reduced inflammation may lessen your risk of some cancers, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Nutrition

Cacao powder provides more nutrition than cocoa powder and can be a healthier substitute in recipes. Cacao powder is also an excellent source of:

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Nutrients per Serving

Two tablespoons of cacao powder contains:

Things to Watch Out For

A two tablespoon serving has about 50 grams of caffeine, which is about half the amount of caffeine in the average cup of coffee. Bear this in mind if you are sensitive to caffeine.

Though cacao powder is often used as a substitute for cocoa powder in recipes, swapping the powders doesn’t automatically make a recipe healthy. You should still keep an eye on the amount of sugar and unhealthy fats in recipes containing cacao powder.

How to Prepare Cacao Powder

Cacao powder is similar to cocoa powder in flavor and function, but it’s more nutritious overall. Many vegan dessert recipes call for cacao powder because of its minimal processing and nutrition-density. Making the switch is an easy way to get more nutrients when you’re baking.

Cacao powder looks almost identical to cocoa powder, and can be used much the same way. You can substitute cocoa powder for an equal amount of cacao powder in recipes that call for it, though the flavor might not be as sweet. Cacao powder also absorbs more liquid than cocoa powder, so you may need to increase the measurement of liquid ingredients in a recipe.

Just like cocoa powder, you can use cacao powder to make brownies, cakes, cookies and other chocolatey desserts. Here are a few other ways to use cacao powder:

  • Sprinkle on top of peanut butter on toast.
  • Use as an ingredient in homemade hot cocoa mix.
  • Add to a smoothie.
  • Add to plain or vanilla Greek yogurt.
  • Add to a pot of chili for a deeper flavor.
  • Use as an oatmeal mix-in.
  • Dust brownie and cake baking pans to prevent sticking. 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 26, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Harvard Women’s Health Watch: “In the journals: cocoa reduces inflammation associated with heart disease.”

Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives: “Use of dark chocolate for diabetic patients: a review of the literature and current evidence.”

Nutrients: “Health Benefits of Methylxanthines in Cacao and Chocolate.”

Nature Ecology & Evolution: “The use and domestication of Theobroma cacao during the mid-Holocene in the upper Amazon.”

Hypertension: “Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Long-term dietary flavonoid intake and risk of Alzheimer disease and related dementias in the Framingham Offspring Cohort.”

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