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Raw cacao or cocoa health benefits

If you check the ingredients list on the packaging of various food products, you may come across the terms 'cacao' or 'cocoa', and they may be preceded with the word 'raw'. What do these terms really mean, how do they differ from 'chocolate' and do they provide any health benefits?

What are cacao and cocoa?

Understanding how chocolate is made can help explain the different terms that appear on food labelling and that spring up on websites. Whether they are ' chocolate', 'raw cacao' or 'cocoa', all these products start off as seeds inside pods of the cacao tree, or Theobroma cacao. These seeds are actually fruit but they are usually referred to as cocoa beans.

According to the National Confectioners Association's (NCA) Chocolate Council, which is affiliated with the World Cocoa Foundation, cocoa beans are grown on farms in countries near the equator - cacao trees need a tropical climate. Before the beans are delivered to a factory, the farmer will normally remove the seeds from the pods, ferment the seeds and dry them.

In traditional Central American processing methods, the beans are washed rather than fermented - these are known as lavado, Spanish for 'washed', beans.

Once at a chocolate factory, the beans are cleaned and roasted at 120°C or higher for 30 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes, depending on how the beans will be used. The roasted beans are then split open to remove the nib - this is the 'meat' inside the bean that is used to make cacao (or cocoa) products.

The nibs are ground into a liquid form called chocolate liquor and poured into moulds, where it hardens into unsweetened plain chocolate which can then be sold for baking. Chocolate liquor can also be pressed to separate the cocoa butter from the cocoa powder (thereby making two different products), or it can be made into eating chocolate by mixing it with sugar, more cocoa butter and other ingredients such as milk, fruit, nuts and spices.

Cacao (pronounced either 'kuh-KOW' or 'kuh-KAY-oh') can refer to any of these three products: chocolate liquor, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. A percentage symbol on a food label indicates the total amount of these three ingredients (by weight) used to make the product. On food labels, % cacao and % cocoa are used interchangeably, so if a label has % cocoa it can also include chocolate liquor or extra cocoa butter.

What is raw cacao or cocoa?

When 'raw' appears on a food label that contains cacao, it refers to a product made from cacao beans that have not been roasted. According to the NCA, there is no legal definition for raw chocolate, nor is there an industry standard, but manufacturers who produce raw cacao or cocoa powder, nibs, beans, cocoa butter or finished chocolate claim the temperatures used to produce their products do not exceed 42°C.

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