What is Cacao?

Cacao Theobroma, an evergreen tree, provides the beans used to make cacao. The beans from the tree, which is a member of the Malvaceae family, are used to create nibs, powders, and butter, all of which are edible. Since both cacao and cocoa come from the beans of the cacao tree, they are sometimes confused with one another. While cocoa is produced from roasted beans, cacao is created from raw beans.

Theobroma cacao tree produces raw cacao in the form of beans. In the Baba portion of the plant, the beans, which are seeds, develop into pods. The Baba is a white, fleshy pulp.

It is mostly grown in Africa, but it can also thrive in warmer regions, therefore it is also grown in Central and South America, as well as the Spanish Canary Islands. Since the period of the Mayans and Aztecs, the tree has been used throughout Central America for food and medicinal.

What is Cacao?

Cacao (pronounced kuh-KAY-oh) refers to the plant, its seeds, and its products. It is a tropical tree native to the Americas, primarily found in regions such as Central and South America, as well as West Africa, where it is cultivated for its seeds.

The cacao tree, scientifically known as Theobroma cacao, produces large, colourful pods that contain its beans. These beans are the primary ingredient used to make chocolate and various cocoa-based products.

They are harvested, fermented, dried, and then processed to extract cocoa solids and cocoa butter, which are used in the production of chocolate bars, cocoa powder, and other chocolate products.

It has a rich, complex flavour profile that can vary depending on the variety of cacao trees, the growing region, and the processing methods. It is known for its natural bitterness, deep chocolatey taste, and potential fruity or nutty undertones. Cacao and its processed forms, such as chocolate, are widely enjoyed for their taste and are also recognized for their potential health benefits.

What Does Cacao Taste Like?

It has a distinct and complex flavour profile. Here are some characteristics of the taste of it:

  1. Bitterness: It has a natural bitterness, especially when consumed in its raw or unprocessed form. This bitterness is often mellowed out or balanced by the addition of sugar or other sweeteners in chocolate products.
  2. Rich and Chocolatey: Cacao is known for its deep, intense chocolate flavour. It provides the foundation for the taste of chocolate and contributes to its overall richness.
  3. Earthy and Nutty: It can have earthy and nutty undertones. Depending on the variety of cacao and the growing conditions, you may detect hints of roasted nuts, woodiness, or earthiness in the flavour.
  4. Fruity and Floral Notes: Some varieties of it can exhibit fruity or floral flavours. These can range from subtle hints of berries or citrus to more pronounced tropical fruit notes.
  5. Astringency: It can have a slightly drying or astringent sensation on the palate, similar to the feeling of strong black tea. This characteristic is more noticeable when consuming high-percentage dark chocolate.

How do you Sweeten Cacao?

Cacao, known for its natural bitterness, can be sweetened to balance out the flavour. Here are a few common ways to sweeten it:

  1. Sugar: The most common method is to add granulated sugar or other sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup, to it. This can be done during the processing of it into chocolate products or when using cacao powder in recipes.
  2. Sweetened chocolate: Sweetened chocolate bars or chocolate chips already contain sugar, so using these in recipes or consuming them directly can provide sweetness to them.
  3. Sweetener alternatives: If you prefer to avoid using refined sugar, you can explore alternative sweeteners such as coconut sugar, agave nectar, stevia, or monk fruit sweetener. These options can be used to sweeten cacao powder or incorporated into recipes.
  4. Milk or dairy products: Combining it with milk or dairy products, such as milk chocolate or hot chocolate made with milk, adds sweetness and creates a creamy taste.
  5. Flavoured syrups or extracts: Adding flavoured syrups like vanilla syrup, caramel syrup, or mint extract can enhance the sweetness and flavour of cacao-based drinks or desserts.

How Is Cacao Processed?

Cacao goes through several steps of processing to transform it from raw beans into various forms, such as cocoa powder, cocoa butter, or chocolate. Here’s an overview of the typical process:


Cacao pods, which grow on the cacao tree, are harvested when they are ripe. The pods are usually cut from the tree using a machete or a similar tool.


The harvested cacao pods are opened, and the beans and pulp inside are extracted. The beans are then placed in shallow containers or fermentation boxes and left to ferment for a certain period, typically a few days. Fermentation is a crucial step that develops the flavour and aroma of the beans by allowing natural yeasts and bacteria to act on the sugars in the beans.


After fermentation, the beans are spread out in a single layer to dry. This can be done on mats, raised beds, or drying racks. The beans are exposed to sunlight or heated air, and they are regularly turned to ensure even drying. The drying process helps reduce the moisture content of the beans and stabilize them for storage and further processing.


The dried beans are roasted to develop the desired flavour. Roasting also helps to further reduce moisture, remove any remaining fermentation flavours, and loosen the shell surrounding the bean. The beans are typically roasted at specific temperatures and times, which can vary depending on the desired flavour profile.


The roasted beans are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor or cocoa mass. The grinding process generates heat, which causes the cocoa butter present in the beans to melt and combine with the cocoa solids, resulting in a smooth, liquid consistency.


The chocolate liquor can undergo a hydraulic pressing process to separate the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter. This process produces cocoa powder (the solids) and cocoa butter (the fat).


Conching is a refining process where the chocolate liquor is continuously stirred and heated at controlled temperatures. This step helps to smooth out the texture, develop flavour, and remove any remaining undesirable flavours. Conching can take several hours or even days, depending on the desired quality.


Tempering is the process of carefully controlling the temperature of the chocolate to encourage the formation of stable cocoa butter crystals. This step is crucial to achieve the desired shine, snap, and smooth texture of the final chocolate product.

Final Processing

The processed chocolate can be further refined, combined with other ingredients (such as sugar, milk powder, or flavourings), and conched again to ensure proper blending. It can then be moulded into bars, moulded into various shapes, or used as an ingredient in various chocolate-based products.

How to Eat Cacao?

Cacao can be enjoyed in various forms, depending on personal preference and the specific product you have. Here are some common ways to eat it:

  1. Chocolate Bars: One of the most popular ways to consume cacao is through chocolate bars. Simply unwrap the chocolate bar and take a bite to enjoy the rich, chocolatey flavour.
  2. Hot Chocolate: Use cocoa powder to make a delicious cup of hot chocolate. Heat milk or a milk alternative, add cocoa powder and sweeten to taste with sugar or a sweetener of your choice. Stir well until the cocoa powder is fully dissolved, and enjoy a warm, comforting drink.
  3. Baking and Cooking: Cacao powder can be used as an ingredient in baking recipes, such as cakes, cookies, brownies, and muffins. It adds a rich chocolate flavour to your baked goods. You can also use cacao nibs or chopped cacao beans as a topping for desserts or as an ingredient in recipes for added texture and flavour.
  4. Smoothies and Shakes: Add cacao powder or cacao nibs to your smoothies or shakes for a chocolaty twist. It can provide a rich flavour and a nutritional boost to your beverages.
  5. Cacao Nibs: Cacao nibs are small pieces of crushed cacao beans. They can be eaten as they are, added to granola, sprinkled on yoghurt, or used as a topping for desserts. They provide a crunchy texture and intense chocolate flavour.
  6. Cacao Fruit: In some regions, the pulp of the cacao fruit is consumed. It has a sweet and tangy taste and can be eaten fresh or used in smoothies, juices, or other tropical fruit-based recipes.

Are Cacao and Cocoa the Same Thing?

Cacao and cocoa are related but refer to different stages of the same plant product. Here’s the distinction between the two:

Cacao: Cacao (pronounced kuh-KAY-oh) refers to the raw or minimally processed beans and the tree they come from. The term “cacao” is often used to describe the plant itself, its pods, and the beans inside. Cacao beans are typically harvested, fermented, dried, and then processed further into various forms such as cocoa powder, cocoa butter, or chocolate.

Cocoa: Cocoa is the term used for the processed form of cacao beans. After the cacao beans are harvested, fermented, and dried, they undergo further processing, which typically includes roasting, grinding, and pressing to separate the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter. The resulting solids are then ground into a fine powder, known as cocoa powder. Cocoa powder can be used in baking, cooking, or making hot chocolate.


In conclusion, It is a tropical tree that produces seeds, which are used to make chocolate and cocoa-based products. Cacao has a distinct flavor profile characterized by its natural bitterness, deep chocolatey taste, and potential undertones of nuttiness, earthiness, fruitiness, or floral notes.

It is often sweetened with sugar or other sweeteners to balance out its bitterness. It is widely enjoyed for its rich flavour and is a key ingredient in various chocolate products.

Additionally, it is known to contain antioxidants and certain compounds that may have potential health benefits. Whether consumed as dark chocolate, used in baking, or enjoyed as a hot beverage, it offers a unique taste experience and is cherished by chocolate lovers around the world.