Lifestyle | Food Features

All About Cocoa

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see our disclosure policy for details.

Learn All About Cocoa & FODMAPs

Monash University has lab tested both Cocoa Powder and Cacao Powder and list different results. The problem is that from the chocolate manufacturing industry’s perspective, there is no difference between cacao and cocoa powder. The FDA, The Food Standards for Australia and New Zealand, the ICCO (International Cocoa Organization) and the National Confectioners Association do not even recognize the term “cacao” to describe cocoa powder. This article attempts to explain the discrepancies in the Monash lab testing.

Learn All About Cocoa. three cocoas compared
Left to Right: Natural cocoa, Dutch-processed cocoa, Black cocoa.

Let’s look at some facts:

  1. Many companies use the term “cacao” when they want their product to appear “healthier”.
  2. “Cacao” terminology is often used to describe organic and/or raw products in particular.
  3. The “raw” industry has no FDA guidelines, so we do not know what temperatures a “raw” product has been exposed to.

FODMAP Content Of Cacao Powder vs. Cocoa Powder

According to Monash University lab testing:

Cacao Powder is low FODMAP in 2 teaspoon (8 g) portions but does not reach high FODMAP levels until servings over 200 g/7 ounces, at which point both fructans and GOS are detected.

Cocoa Powder is low FODMAP in 2 teaspoon (8 g) portions but does not reach high FODMAP levels until servings over 20 g/0.7 ounces, at which point both fructans and GOS are detected.

Since I knew there was no difference, other than a marketing difference, between cacao powder and cocoa powder and since the numbers were so similar, I wondered if an editorial error had been made. 200 vs. 20? 7 vs. .7? Maybe a “zero” was dropped or added?.

It’s All About The Branding

If you are in the U.S. you might associate cocoa powder with Hershey’s. They have been in business since 1894 and it has always been an easy-to-find supermarket brand, hence many Americans use Hershey’s cocoa as their standard pantry choice.

Hershey’s now does offer a Dutch-processed cocoa, which they call “Special Dark”, but they are known for their natural cocoa powder. Over the years the wording and the look of the can have changed.

On older cans they didn’t have to even detail what was in the can, as consumers understood, as seen below.

Older Hershey's can

Then for many decades they added wording on the front, and detailed “100% cocoa”.

Hershey's cocoa

Recently they have changed the term to “cacao” on the front, because consumers think that is a better product and more “natural” (which has no meaning) …

Hershey's cacao

but tellingly, the ingredient has always been listed as “cocoa” – even if it says “cacao” on the front. This is because the actual foodstuff is cocoa powder.

100% Cocoa

Monash Comment On Cacao vs. Cocoa Powder

I contacted Monash to discuss the differences reported on their smartphone app and their response was, “Our understanding is that there is a difference between cacao powder and cocoa powder. Samples were collected of each and they were tested separately, the results are in the app… Re the cacao vs cocoa – no plans to do any more testing at this stage. Both are low FODMAP – so safe to include on a low FODMAP diet.”

This was unsatisfactory for me. I communicated with them about how cacao/cocoa powder is made and why we needed more information.

Why did they get different results? What actually WERE those samples they tested?

I would have been happy to do further research on the brands they tested, but they did not provide that information.

Let’s pause for a moment to look at how cocoa and cacao powder are made to understand why the lab showed different results.

How Cocoa/Cacao Powder Is Made

Raw cacao pods contain juicy, white, flesh-covered beans. Inside the beans are cacao nibs, from which all chocolate is made – and all cacao/cocoa powder, too.

The beans, covered with flesh, are hand scooped out of the pods upon harvesting.

Beans May or May Not Be Fermented

At this point they might be fermented, or not. This step is considered to be an incredibly important part of flavor development by most chocolate manufacturers. During fermentation, bean temperatures reach about 125°F (52°C).

FYI, most raw food proponents say that food should not be heated above 92ºF to 118ºF (33°C to 48°C). BUT there is no oversight, so raw companies can call a product raw and the consumer has no protection or consistency in labeling. The term “raw” is not a reliable term.

Cacao Beans Must Be Dried

The next step for the cacao beans is drying. The very moist beans are brought down to about 6% to 8% moisture content. This is done by sun drying or drying can be accelerated with heat. The beans during this process reach temperatures averaging 125°F to 150°F (50°C to 65°C), which again, would put them outside of the “raw” designation.

Raw Cacao? A Meaningless Term

After drying, cocoa beans will be roasted – or not. This is where many “raw” purveyors will claim that they do not roast their beans and therefore their beans are “raw”, but we can see from what happens prior to this that the beans indeed are exposed to temperatures higher than what most raw proponents desire.

Handling Of Cacao Beans

Once the beans are dried and/or roasted, it is time to make chocolate and/or cocoa (cacao) powder.

The beans are cracked open (the industry term is “winnowed”) and the inside of the bean, the cacao nibs, are exposed.

ALL chocolate begins with the nibs. ALL cacao/cocoa powder begins with nibs. We are focusing on cacao/cocoa powder in this article.

How Cocoa Powder Is Made

The nibs contain about 50% cocoa butter, which is the natural fat in cacao beans. If the nibs are exposed to about 6000 psi of pressure, the cocoa butter will melt and can be separated out.

What is left is a dry(ish) mass, which is what becomes cocoa/cacao powder.

Cocoa/cacao powder can range in fat content from about 10% to about 22%. This is a huge variable, as you can see. Remember this as you read on as it might be part of the FODMAP answer.

If we have to make a general statement, we can say that natural cocoas are lower in fat and Dutch-processed cocoas are higher in fat (more on these terms below), but this is a generalization. (Ghirardelli is opposite, as an example). But the point is that some can be as low as 10% fat and others as high as 22% (or even a tad higher).

My Educated Guesses In Regards To The Different Lab Results

My guess is that Monash bought products that were indeed labeled differently, some as “cacao powder” and some as “cocoa powder”. They took the nomenclature at face value, believing these were different products – and the lab results said they were different – we just do not know WHY.

I think there are two main reasons the lab results are different:

  1. The “cacao” powder tested might have been a “raw” product and the cocoa beans and/or cacao nibs might not have been exposed to as high heat and/or sustained exposure to heat as the other “cocoa” powder product tested. The potentially lesser amount of heat could have affected the FODMAP content. But we do not know.
  2. It could also be as simple as some of the products being fairly high in fat, the others fairly low. A higher fat product would contain fewer carbohydrates and therefore fewer FODMAPs.

Choosing Low FODMAP Cocoa Powder

You probably want to know how to choose a cocoa powder to use while following the low FODMAP diet. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Use the type of cocoa called for in the recipe. If it says natural cocoa, use that. If it says Dutch-processed, use that (more below on what those terms mean).
  2. If a recipe calls for “cacao” all bets are off. Frankly, when I see that term I get suspicious. It is usually from a source that is presenting their “cacao” recipe as healthier, and there is simply no good research supporting such claims.
  3. Let’s look again at what Monash said in regard to their listings for “cacao powder” and “cocoa powder”: “Both are low FODMAP – so safe to include on a low FODMAP diet.”

Amounts Of Fat Per 1 Tablespoon

Since higher fat cocoa would be lower in carbohydrates and therefore most likely lower in FODMAPs, I thought it would be helpful to know the fat content of some popular cocoas. Here is a look at some brands and their fat content, per 1 U.S. tablespoon (as listed on their respective FDA labels). Terms below are as listed by manufacturer (alphabetical order); also, the brands have slightly variable gram weights per tablespoon and are listed as described by purveyor:

Fat Content Per Tablespoon

(6 g) Bensdorp Dutched Cocoa = 1.5 g fat

(15 g) Droste Cocoa Powder (Dutch-processed) =  2 g

(6 g) Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (Natural) = 1.5 g fat

(6 g) Ghirardelli Unsweetened Dutch Process Cocoa = 1 g fat

(5 g) Guittard Rouge Cocoa Powder Unsweetened (Dutch-processed) = 1 g fat

(5 g) Hershey Naturally Unsweetened (Natural) = .5 g fat

(6 g) King Arthur Black Cocoa (Dutch-processed) = .5 g fat

(6 g) Navitas Organics Cacao Powder (Natural) = .6 g

(7 g) Penzey’s High Fat Cocoa (Dutch-processed)  = 2 g

(5 g) Scharffen Berger Cocoa Powder (Natural) = 1 g

(9 g) Terrasoul Superfoods Raw Organic Cacao Powder (Natural) = .9 g

(7g) Valrhona Cocoa ((Dutch-processed) – 1.5 g 

(5 g) Viva Naturals Cacao Powder = .5 g

Cocoa Can Be Low FODMAP – It’s About Portions

All of this means that we can eat all kinds of delicious favorites made with cocoa powder – from cookies, to brownieswaffleshot cocoa and layer cakes!

Finding Cocoa In The Monash App

Finding cocoa in the Monash app can be difficult. It is not listed alongside chocolate (in the Confectionery & Sugars category). You will find Cocoa listed within the Beverages section.

Natural Cocoa, Dutch-Processed Cocoa & Black Cococa

Any FODMAP Everyday® recipe that calls for cocoa will specify which kind we want you to use, usually natural cocoa or Dutch-processed. There is also black cocoa, which we sometimes use, and you might not have heard of it before – but we bet it looks familiar!

Black cocoa is the color of and has the flavor of Oreo cookies! It is featured in our Dark Chocolate Waffles– which, by the way make THE BEST ice cream sandwiches!

Each type of cocoa has its own flavor profile and will react differently in most baked items. In other words, if a cake recipe lists natural cocoa and you use Dutch-Processed – and the cake doesn’t come out well – it isn’t because you can’t bake or that the recipe didn’t work, it is because you substituted one cocoa for another.

Please don’t do this! Recipes, especially baking recipes, are developed very specifically for the ingredients to interact well with one another. In the recipe development business we have what we call “tolerance”. Some recipes have great tolerance, meaning that you can fidget with them and they will still be fine.

Others, not so much.

Since you are investing your time and money in high quality ingredients, we recommend that you always follow the specific directions.

Here is a quick look at cocoas compared, as it is important to understand the difference.

Natural Cocoa

natural cocoa

Seen in the top image on the far left, and immediately above, this cocoa will usually be the lightest in color. Looking at labels, natural cocoa might also be called “cocoa powder” or “unsweetened cocoa.” Devil’s food cakes were often made with natural cocoa and in fact they were called “Devil” because of their faintly reddish color. The color is a reaction of the natural cocoa with the baking soda in the recipe.

Natural cocoa has a pH level between 5 and 6, which means that it is a bit acidic. This acidity is tempered in baking recipes by the inclusion of baking soda, with which the cocoa reacts (producing carbon dioxide). Some common U.S. brands of natural cocoa are Hershey’sScharffen Berger and Ghirardelli. I also like Penzey’s Natural High Fat Cocoa and also Callebaut Natural Cocoa Powder.

Dutch-processed Cocoa

Dutch-processed cocoa

This product (seen in the center of the top image and immediately above) is cocoa that has been processed with an alkalai (usually a potassium carbonate solution) to produce a cocoa that is less acidic. It is occasionally referred to as “Dutched”, “alkalized” or even “European style”.

The color is darker than natural cocoa and the flavor is mellowed and considered smoother, while richer at the same time. The pH is around a 7. Since Dutch-processed cocoa is not as acidic as natural cocoa, recipes calling for Dutch-processed are usually leavened by baking powder.

Black Cocoa

black cocoa

This cocoa is very dark, almost black in color and has a pH of 8. (It is on the far right in the top image and seen immediately above ). It has a very intense flavor and a somewhat sandier texture than natural or Dutched cocoa.

If you have eaten Oreo cookies, then you will recognize the color and flavor of this specialty cocoa. It is often used alongside Dutch-processed in a recipe, but occasionally it will stand on its own, as in our Dark Chocolate Waffles.

How Do I Know Which Cocoa To Use?

As stated before, hopefully the recipe you are using gives you clear ingredient recommendations. If it does not, and simply states “cocoa” or “unsweetened cocoa powder” then you have a bit of sleuthing to do.

Consider the context. If you are reading an older cookbook, say an American cookbook from the 1950s – like an early version of Joy of Cooking or Fannie Farmer, then chances are they want you to use natural cocoa. This is because that is what was available and widely used at that time. If you are cooking out of a mainstream magazine (not a cooking magazine) and a recipe lists “cocoa”, natural will probably be your best bet.

You can also look at the rest of the recipe. If it calls for baking soda only, use natural cocoa. If it lists baking powder only, then use Dutch-processed. Note that sometimes when Dutch-processed cocoa is combined with baking soda that a soapy flavor can develop. If the recipe lists both leaveners then all bets are off, as we cannot tell for sure.

But on the other hand, either might work. Truth be told, we have at times had as much success with one as with the other. It all depends on the specific recipe, however, always use what is recommended if it is specified.

If the recipe is not a baking recipe and is something like pudding, custard, hot fudge sauce, hot cocoa or similar, and no leaveners are present, then you have choices.

As explained before, Dutch-processed is darker in color and many people think it tastes richer and more “chocolatey”. Natural cocoa on the other hand is lighter in color and more astringent in flavor.

Cocoa & FODMAPs

Now let’s get back to the 2 teaspoon (8 g) amount, of both cacao powder and cocoa powder, which are Green Light low FODMAP. I know it sounds like a small amount, but let’s look at our Chocolate Cupcakes, which happen to contain ⅓ cup (29 g) of Dutch-processed cocoa. What is important to note is that the yield is 12 cupcakes. That means there is a mere 2.4 g of cocoa powder per serving.

And even with some dark chocolate in the batter as well, they are low enough in FODMAPs according to Monash University. So don’t fear! You can have your cocoa and stay low FODMAP too!

All of our recipes have specific serving sizes recommended to help them retain a low FODMAP status. Pay attention to serving size!

For a fantastic recipe truly highlighting cocoa, check out our Hot Cocoa.

And, since we assume you are chocolate fanatics, check out our articles, All About Dark Chocolate,All About Milk Chocolate and All About White Chocolate.

(Editor’s Note: I have been teaching classes on chocolate growing, harvest and manufacture for over 25 years to both food industry professionals as well as lay people, so I have a strong background in chocolate and pursue continuing education on a regular basis. We felt that this was important to note, since this article contains a fair amount of extrapolation and we want our readers to know that my statements come from a place of industry knowledge).

Here is an article that might also be of interest – The Truth About Raw Chocolate 

Shop For Cocoa Here

You Might Also Be Interested To Read