“Look what I bought!” My flatmate holds up a mammoth bag of cacao powder, with a large smile. She is proud of herself, and I offer a supportive, wow! While trying to quell my deep cynicism. I have a box of cocoa powder in my own cupboard and I am pretty sure the only difference between the two is the placement of the ‘a’s and the ‘o’s. Oh, and the cost.
A bag of Nature’s Heart Superfoods Organic Cacao Powder weighs 567 grams, and retails between £5.50 and £10.98, depending entirely on where you buy it from. My own box of Belbake Cocoa Powder weighs 250g, and cost me all of £1.29 from Lidl. So that’s a solid 51 pence (p) per 100g as compared to the whopping 97p to £1.95 per 100g. (Food in the UK is still quite cheap, but still!)
As far as I was concerned, I had got the better deal. But apparently there were health benefits in the cacao powder missing in my cocoa. Something to do with how refined it is, what’s been added, and that wonderful pseudo-science marketing term, ‘superfood.’ That word alone fuels my disbelief in the magical powers of cacao (while also convincing me slightly because I am as affected by good marketing tactics as anyone else.)
My flatmate assures me that there is a difference. Where hers is 100 percent from the cocoa bean, mine contains added sugars and fats.
Belbake Cocoa Powder contains 93 percent cocoa powder, the rest is made up of aciditity regulators; sodium hydroxide and potassium carbonates. No added fats or sugars then, but a lot of salt. Her cacao powder is 100 percent ground cocoa bean.
The production method for each is also different. Cacao comes pure and cold- pressed from the cocoa bean. (It’s also fermented but no need to mention that, right?). While cocoa powder is roasted, and at high temperatures. This they say rids the bean of useful and healthy anti-oxidants. The powder is stripped of its nutritional value and of its properties for improving mood. Allegedly. I tend to find chocolate in any form improves my mood.
In order to get to the bottom of this argument, I talked to Dr Duane Miller, a qualified dietician and senior teaching fellow at Aston University.
Firstly, does roasting cocoa powder actually change the nutritional value? According to Dr Miller it’s possible but not necessarily a bad thing. “It [roasting] can disrupt some of the polyphenolic compounds which are linked to the anti-oxidant effects (although whether this is a direct beneficial effect is questionable). However, there is evidence that some of these effects can increase the availability of the smaller and potentially more biologically available types of polyphenol. So, it is more complex than saying that heat destroys the nutritional values, it can sometimes actually increase it.”
I could end it there. I have obviously just won this argument. In fact, my cocoa powder may even be healthier, (high salt count aside). But, there are other differences, according to Dr Miller there is a chance that cacao powder will have a stronger flavour.
“It may have a better flavour, this may be due to how it is fermented and other processes not just roasting. These influence the amount of polyphenol compounds, these are what can make it bitter. So, for example a longer fermentation can help to mellow these bitter compounds making a milder flavour, but might not contain as many potentially health promoting compounds.”
“So, cacao powder which is essentially cocoa powder but with a better name (no universal definition) may taste different, but it is unlikely to have a health impact.”
Am I feeling a little smug? Maybe. But I agree cacao is a fancier name, excuse me while I scribble on my container with a sharpie.