Cacao powder is a product of cacao beans, the source of chocolate and cocoa flavorings. It’s known for some impressive health benefits, including increased cognitive functioning, decreased insulin resistance, improved mood, and reduced cognitive fatigue.
Don’t be fooled by the difference—cacao powder is not the same thing as cocoa powder. To get cocoa powder, manufacturers start with cacao beans, then press the oil and fats out of them.
Once powderized, this is cacao powder. After heating and chemical treatment, it becomes cocoa powder. For the maximum possible health benefits, you want a high-quality cacao powder, not cocoa powder.
We’ve looked over the options on the market and our researcher team has come up with the ten highest-quality cacao powders to boost your brain powder as well as your antioxidant levels.
Last updated: January 4, 2023
Cacao powders considered: 26
Hours of research: 43
Experts reviewed: 6
Scientific papers referenced: 12
1. Navitas Organics Cacao Powder
Navitas Organics specializes in high-quality, organically-sourced superfoods, and their cacao powder is the best on the market. Why?
First, its organic and fair trade certifications mean it’s grown without harmful pesticides or harmful labor practices.
On top of this, Navitas Organics Cacao Powder scored very well on independent lab testing for the presence of cadmium, a harmful heavy metal that can be found at high levels in some cacao powders.
This high-quality sourcing, plus rave reviews from users, makes it our top pick overall.
2. Pure Natural Miracles Cacao Powder
Pure Natural Miracles makes a very well-sourced cacao powder that’s grown in Ecuador and certified organic.
It also scored well on independent laboratory testing for cadmium content, making it a safe choice if you will be consuming a lot of cacao powder on a regular basis.
3. Viva Naturals Cacao Powder
Viva Naturals makes a very popular cacao powder that’s organically grown in Peru and comes in a one-pound bag. While it isn’t fair trade certified, aside from that it is hard to find any faults in this cacao powder.
Users love its finely-powdered texture, which make it easy to mix into smoothies, as well as its rich, robust flavor.
4. Terrasoul Superfoods Cacao Powder
Terrasoul Superfoods sources their cacao powder from ecuador, and it’s available in one and two pound bags.
If you are more adventurous, you can even get the totally unprocessed cacao nibs, or cacao butter (the oils and fats pressed out of the cacao beans during the process that turns the raw beans into cacao powder).
This variety is great to see, as is the organic certification.
5. OMG! Superfoods Organic Cacao Powder
OMG! Superfoods makes a cacao powder that’s packaged in a paper canister instead of the typical plastic bag.
On one hand, this might mean more air will get into the container as it’s sitting on your shelf after being opened, which could lead to oxidation of some of the key nutrients.
On the other, it’s a lot more convenient to work with than plastic bags, which can be irritating to reseal. This cacao powder is best-suited for people who will use it on a daily basis.
6. Zint Organic Cacao Powder
Zint Organic Cacao Powder is sold in sizes ranging from half a pound up to two pounds, so it’s a good choice for users who aren’t sure how much they’ll end up using.
You can always start small, then go for the larger size the next time around. Grown in Peru and organically-certified, this is a good all-around cacao powder.
7. Healthworks Cacao Powder
Organically grown and sold in a clear, one-pound bag, this cacao powder sells well but isn’t fully transparent about where its cacao is sourced from. Though this is a minor detail, it’d be better if the country of origin were clear.
8. Zen Spirit Cacao Powder
Zen Spirit Organic Cacao Powder is an Ecuadorian-grown cacao powder that carries an organic certification and comes in a one-pound bag to fulfil the needs of regular consumers of cacao powder. It’s a simple and straightforward cacao powder that’s well-suited for daily use.
9. Better Body Foods Cacao Powder
Better Body Foods Cacao Powder is grown in Peru, packaged in the United States, and carries an organic certification. That aside, it’s not the all-around best when it comes to texture and taste, which land it lower in the rankings.
10. Millard Organic Cacao Powder
Millard makes a pretty standard cacao powder that’s certified organic, but beyond that, doesn’t have much to distinguish it from its competitors. The two pound bag size is a nice perk if you are a heavy user, though.
Best cacao powder overall: Navitas Organics Cacao Powder
Navitas is our overall winner thanks to its high purity and versatility. It’s independently tested for the presence of heavy metals like cadmium, it’s certified organic, and it’s easy to mix into other solutions.
Best cacao powder for baking: Pure Natural Miracles Cacao Powder
For baking, you want a fine powder that’s easy to add to your recipes without clumping up. Pure Natural Miracles is great on this front, making it a very solid pick for baking.
Best cacao powder for protein shakes: OMG! Superfoods Organic Cacao Powder
Plenty of cacao powders do well in protein shakes, but OMG! Superfoods is our top pick for practical reasons: the canister is easy to scoop from without spilling, and the cacao powder is powderized finely enough for easy mixing alongside protein powder.
Best organic and fair trade cacao powder: Navitas Organics Cacao Powder
Looking for cacao powder that’s good for you, good for the earth, and good for the people who grow it? Navitas should be your go-to option. It’s certified organic, non-GMO, and fair-trade—and on top of all of that, it tastes great.
Best raw cacao nibs: Terrasoul Cacao Nibs
If you are 100% committed to eating cacao in its natural form, Terrasoul makes fantastic raw cacao nibs (the crunchy granules that are powderized to make cacao powder). They’re organic and non-GMO, so look no further if you want completely raw cacao.
Best cacao powder for weight loss: Viva Naturals Cacao Powder
Cacao powder can be used to ameliorate some of the negative effects of obesity and a high-fat diet via its potent antioxidant effects. If this is your use case, you want an unprocessed, pure, and easy-to-take form of cacao—enter Viva Naturals, which makes a great organic cacao powder.
Who should buy cacao powder?
Cacao powder is perfect for people who love the complex taste of dark chocolate and want to get some extra antioxidant benefits from a raw, unprocessed form of the same plant. It’s been most well-studied for the following applications:
Controlling blood sugar and reducing risk factors for heart disease. Like other antioxidants, the flavanols in cacao powder contribute both to improved blood sugar regulation and helping to improve your blood lipid profile, booth of which are major risk factors for heart disease.
Boosting cognitive function and elevating your mood. Research shows that cacao powder can both elevate your mood and decrease cognitive fatigue during demanding tasks. These findings are particularly strong in older adults, but they’ve been replicated on young adults too, indicating that cacao powder is great for anyone looking for robust cognitive performance and enhanced mood.
Incorporating a more powerful superfood into your typical diet. Cacao powder is easy to add to a shake, smoothie, or as a topping for hot cereal or baked foods.
If you want to add a unique and tasty superfood to your diet as a long-term strategy for your physical and mental health, cacao powder is a fantastic choice. It tastes great and functions as an all-around superfood that’s rich in antioxidants (mostly from cocoa flavanols), and these antioxidants are the source of its powerful physical and mental health benefits.
How we ranked
We reviewed and ranked cacao powder products using several criteria closely linked with quality, both in terms of how the cacao beans were grown and how they were processed.
As close to raw cacao as possible. Since the primary benefits of cacao powder over other sources of cocoa flavanols, like cocoa powder or dark chocolate, come from its natural and unprocessed status, we prioritized cacao powders that were as close to nature as you can get.
This meant non-GMO cacao beans, and, when possible, an organic certification from one of the international certification agencies that ensure that growers are adhering to rules regarding what types of fertilizers and pesticides are used.
All non-GMO and certified organic products. We found that even after eliminating any product that was not certified as organic and non-GMO, there were still plenty of high-quality products left. As such, every single one of the cacao powders we ranked in the top ten were both non-GMO and certified organic.
Fair trade certifications for a commitment to long-term quality. We also put a premium on fair trade certifications—these seals of approval, which come from separate international organizations than the organic and non-GMO certifications, ensure that the farmers, field workers, and merchants who grow, harvest, and sell the cacao locally in Africa and South America work in ethical conditions and are paid a fair wage.
A fair trade certification shows that a company is committed to ensuring that their product stays high-quality in the long run.
Independent lab testing for heavy metal contamination. Recent research has found that cacao beans (and as a result, cacao powder) can pick up significant levels of cadmium from the soil in which it is grown.
Cadmium is a heavy metal which is toxic to your body, so we referenced independent laboratory testing, when available, to make sure products that had high cadmium levels were screened out.
Not all cacao powders have undergone heavy metal assays by an independent laboratory, but those that have, and that passed with flying colors, scored very well in our rankings.
Packaging that protects against light and oxygen. Packaging was important, too. Like other antioxidants, the flavanols in cacao powder can degrade if exposed to oxygen and strong light (especially sunlight).
To combat this deterioration of nutrient quality, we rewarded products in the rankings that used resealable and opaque containers that would keep out oxygen and sunlight.
After weighing all of these criteria, we sorted our final ten cacao powders according to overall quality.
Q: Are cacao and cocoa the same thing?
A: No, cacao powder is significantly different from cocoa powder. The key distinction comes in the manufacturing process: after the cacao beans are harvested and dried, the next step is typically to roast the beans in an oven, then crush them and press them to produce cocoa powder.
The manufacture of cacao powder is different: the roasting step is skipped, and the raw beans are crushed and pressed directly.
This has the benefit of preserving a much greater fraction of the antioxidants and phytonutrients. Skipping the roasting also substantially changes the flavor profile: cacao powder is significantly less sweet, and has a more complex, bitter taste to it.
Q: Is cacao powder a raw food?
A: Yes, cacao powder qualifies as a raw food because it is not heated or processed significantly, aside from drying, crushing, and pressing.
All of these processes are carried out at low temperatures, so the antioxidants and the enzymes that are found in raw cacao beans are mostly preserved in cacao powder.
Some portion of these beneficial nutrients would be destroyed in the heating process that is usually used to create cocoa powder and chocolate.
Q: What can you put cacao powder in?
A: Cacao powder adds complexity and a savory, chocolatey flavor to anything you add it to. It’s great to add into a paleo protein powder when mixing up a low-carb protein shake, and is a nice change from usual smoothie flavors.
Cacao powder is also a fantastic topping for oatmeal, cream of wheat, or other hot cereals, and is an easy substitute for cocoa powder in any recipe for brownies, cookies, or other baked goods. Alongside a natural non-caloric sweetener like stevia, you can mix up some healthy low-carb, keto-friendly treats.
Q: How should you use cacao powder?
A: Cacao powder has a bitter and complex taste, similar to a chocolate bar that’s extremely high in dark chocolate, but with even less sweetness.
Many people mix it into recipes for smoothies with frozen banana, yoghurt, or other healthy sources of quality macronutrients, or into a protein shake.
Cacao powder is also easy to mix into banana bread, cookies, brownies, or other baked goods. You can even add it as a topping to oatmeal or other hot cereals as a way to add in the antioxidant power of flavanols without upping your sugar intake at all.
Q: How much caffeine is in cacao powder?
A: Cacao powder is pretty light on caffeine: even in a biologically active serving of 14 to 28 grams of raw cacao powder, you’ll only get about 35 to 70 mg of caffeine.
For reference, one cup of green tea has around 30 mg of caffeine, a cup of coffee has about 100 mg, and most caffeine pills sport around 200 mg per tablet. If you are extremely caffeine sensitive, you might not want to take cacao powder at night, as it could keep you up, but most people will not even notice the caffeine content in cacao powder.
A good rule of thumb would be whether or not you notice the caffeine in a cup of green tea. If so, be mindful of the time of day when taking cacao powder. If not, it’s unlikely to cause any issues for you.
Cacao powder is a raw product of cacao beans, and offer a high dose of flavanols, a powerful antioxidant associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as improvements in cognitive function and mood.
Cacao powder is a superior source of these flavanols, as the processing required to manufacture chocolate and cocoa powder from raw cacao material destroys some of the flavanol content.
Additionally, cacao powder is low in saturated fat and has no sugar, making it a great way to add some antioxidant power to your daily routine while boosting your heart health and brain function.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 cacao powder recommendation, click here.