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What Does the Cacao Percentage on a Chocolate Bar Mean?

The percentage of cacao on a dark chocolate bar refers to the cacao content by weight. Cacao can be added to a chocolate bar in a variety of different forms, including liquid, butter or powder. If you pay attention to chocolate bars, you may notice that some brands give a cacao percentage, while other brands give a cocoa percentage.

Cacao powder in a wooden bowl with the text "Cacao: what does the cacao percentage really mean?" placed over the image.

Cocoa Vs. Cacao percentage

You may be wondering: is cocoa and cacao the same thing? The answer is no, not really. The distinction between these two ingredients is small but significant. Cacao is the unprocessed form of chocolate. It’s as pure and unrefined as chocolate can get. Cacao comes from beans produced by the cacao tree. These beans can be crushed into a powder, turned into a butter, or melted into a paste. You can use cacao either directly in chocolate bars or as cocoa.

Cocoa is a form of cacao that has been heated to a higher temperature during processing. It’s not as raw as cacao, but it does have benefits. It is less expensive and more widely available to consumers. Typically, bakers and baristas use cocoa in their confections and drinks.

Cacao Percentage and Bitterness

The higher cacao percentage in a chocolate bar, the deeper and more intense the chocolate flavor. Cacao is actually very bitter. In commercial products, you can offset bitterness of cacao by adding sugar–in some cases, lots and lots of sugar. Generally speaking, the bitterness of a chocolate bar increases as the cacao percentage number goes up.

Health Benefits

So, now you’re asking: is cacao healthy for me? Cacao is rich in antioxidants and magnesium, so pure cacao can have excellent health benefits. You can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, lower cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure by consuming cacao. Studies have shown that daily consumption of dark chocolate benefits people who suffer from metabolic diseases.

In fact, the anti-inflammatory, cardio-vascular disease fighting aspects of cacao have proven that consuming dark chocolate is a relatively affordable (and pleasurable) way to improve your health by natural means.

Picking the Healthiest Chocolates

In general, chocolate products that have the most health benefits are those that have a high cacao percentage content and relatively low sugar content. “Milk chocolate”-designated products are made from cocoa that has been heavily diluted with ingredients like milk, butter and sugar. While these products do contain cocoa, the unhealthy ingredients outweigh the healthy ingredients and the health benefits are relatively low.

If you’re hoping to eat delicious chocolate that is beneficial to your health, seek out dark chocolates with a relatively low sugar content. Of course, you’ll also want to consult with your doctor.