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.
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. LIVfit Superfood Organic Cacao Powder
LIVfit Superfood Organic Cacao Powder is grown in Peru, packaged in the United States, and carries an organic certification.
While it’s a solid product, some recent changes to the nutrition label are having some users question whether the nutrient content has changed.
For now, it’s probably better to opt for another cacao powder product while this gets sorted out.
10. Fu Carbs Keto Cacao
Fu Carbs Keto Cacao is made by a keto-focused brand that has branched out into cacao beans as a keto-friendly flavoring agent.
However, despite the popularity of this cacao powder, there’s one small problem—after reading the fine print, you’ll realize that this is actually cocoa powder, not cacao powder.
This is likely the result of Fu Carbs not realizing that these are not interchangeable terms, so while Fu Carbs Keto Cacao does taste good, it’s more processed than raw cacao powder, so it’s less likely to have adequate levels of flavanols.
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. Cacao powder is easy to add to a shake, smoothie, or as a topping for hot cereal or baked foods.
Cacao powder is a powerful way to reduce your risk of heart disease, control blood sugar, and on top of that, can boost cognitive function as well as boost your mood.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Cacao powder has numerous well-documented health benefits. Cacao powder, the raw material that cocoa powder and chocolate are derived from, has robust health benefits that range from better regulation of blood sugar to improved cognitive function and a better-regulated mood.
This might be surprising, given how chocolate is pegged as an unhealthy food. True, chocolate has added sugar and a high saturated fat content, but cacao powder has neither of these.
Cacao powder is also superior to (and ought not to be confused with) cocoa powder, which is what you get after you’ve heated and chemically treated cacao powder.
This process destroys some of the powerful flavanols that give cacao powder. So, cacao powder offers the best possible benefits from the cacao plant—tons of flavanols, zero sugar, and very little saturated fat.
Cacao powder could reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Initial interest in the health benefits of the compounds in cacao powder came from epidemiological research that came to a surprising conclusion: chocolate consumption appears to be linked to better health.
One study, published in 2015 in the scientific journal Heart by researchers in the United Kingdom examined the results from over 150,000 study participants to determine the effects of chocolate consumption on heart health (1).
After pooling the results, the authors found that chocolate consumption was associated with a 30% decreased risk for heart disease and stroke.
This is surprising because two of the primary macronutrients found in chocolate—sugar and saturated fat—are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, something which was noted as early as the 1960s (2).
Thus, another explanation was needed. Chocolate must contain a nutrient or group of nutrients powerful enough to counteract the negative effects of the fat and sugar content.
Cacao powder is higher in flavonoids than cocoa or chocolate. Scientists eventually discovered that chocolate, and the plant product it is derived from, the cacao bean, is extremely dense in a type of nutrient called flavanols.
These appear to be the source of the health benefits of chocolate. These benefits for heart health were reviewed by researchers at the University of California Davis tied the flavanol content of chocolate and cacao to antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial for heart health (3).
As a result, the higher the flavanol content of a cacao-derived product, the better the benefits. Cacao powder, thanks to its lack of processing, has a higher flavanol content than either cocoa powder or chocolate, making it the superior choice for the health benefits of the cacao bean.
Cacao powder improves cognitive function. In addition to the circulatory health benefits of cacao powder, the flavanols it contains also appear to exert a powerful and beneficial effect on your brain.
A clinical trial the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested the effects of three levels of supplemental flavanol intake on cognitive function in a group of elderly subjects with mild cognitive decline (4).
After weight weeks of a daily consumption of a high, medium, or low cocoa flavanol beverage, the subjects were tested on a battery of cognitive evaluations.
The researchers found that the flavanol supplement improved their cognitive function on tests related to executive function, memory, and attention. These effects appeared to be mediated, or at least accompanied by, changes in insulin sensitivity as well.
Cacao powder can boost your mood. Another interesting effect of intake of flavanol-rich cacao products is an improvement in self-reported mood.
Research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that a flavanol-rich cacao product was able to improve self-reported mood as well as decrease self-reported cognitive fatigue during a one-hour cognitive testing battery (5).
Cacao powder can help control your blood pressure and blood sugar. Other research published in the journal Hypertension investigated the effects of flavanols from cacao on blood pressure and insulin sensitivity, which are two risk factors for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type two diabetes (6).
The researchers compared two groups of people, one of which received 100 grams of flavanol-rich chocolate per day, while the other received an equivalent amount of white chocolate, which has no flavanols.
After a period of 15 days, the researchers assessed insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels in both groups. The researchers found that the subjects who took the flavanol rich chocolate experienced a decrease in blood pressure, more insulin sensitivity, and decreased LDL cholesterol (known colloquially as “bad” cholesterol).
All of these are promising indicators of decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, and stroke.
Cacao powder might be able to protect your skin from sun damage. Normally, to protect your skin from damage by sunlight, you’d want to apply a good sunscreen or face moisturizer that has an SPF rating.
Damage from ultraviolet light is the primary cause of wrinkles and as such, skin care experts rightly recommend that a sun-blocking sunscreen or moisturizer be your first line of defence against aging skin. However, some fascinating new research suggests that cacao powder may be able to contribute to skin health as well.
The study, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2016, used a mouse model to test the effects of a cacao powder on the response of skin cells to UV-B radiation (7). The researchers used a rigorous experimental procedure to demonstrate that cacao powder substantially reduce ultraviolet light induced wrinkling in mouse skin compared to a placebo.
Moreover, the research team was able to identify 788 genes that were upregulated or downregulated by the cacao powder, providing evidence for the first time that cacao powder does more than just scavenge free radicals on its own—it actually helps activate your body’s internal self-repair systems.
Among the genes that were upregulated were several that play key roles in the formation of wrinkled skin, and others that are important for maintaining the dermal matrix, which in turn protects the structural integrity of your skin. While this research is, so far, limited to mice, it’s a promising avenue that will in all likelihood be explored in humans in the near future.
Some concern has been raised about the potential cadmium content of chocolate. As cacao beans pick up the trace elements in the soil they grow in, they have a tendency to accumulate harmful heavy metals such as cadmium.
A 2014 report by ConsumerLabs raised concern that some brands contain cadmium levels that are above regulatory levels in some countries (8).
Partially as a result, regulatory bodies such as the European Union have imposed thresholds on cadmium content in chocolate products (9).
Given that many cacao powders are sold internationally, this should bring most brands into regulatory agreement in short order.
Barring that, you should opt for one of the highly-ranked cacao powders above, as the top brands have already been independently tested and rated for their cadmium content.
Based on the flavanol content of raw cacao material (circa 35 mg of flavanol per gram of cacao powder), you should aim for a dosage of 14-28 grams to achieve the level of flavanols used in clinical research.
So far, these intake levels are only what’s been used in research on cognitive function and mood as it relates to cacao powder, but these are realistic intakes that are in keeping with epidemiological research on chocolate consumption as well.
Fortunately, this is a relatively small dose and is easy to incorporate into a smoothie, protein shake, or as a topping for hot cereal. Conveniently, this works out to right around one or two standardized servings of most cacao powders.
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 really good for you?
A: Cacao powder has some pretty solid evidence for its acute effects on health: several studies have found that cacao can improve mood, boost cognitive function, and reduce feelings of mental fatigue.
On top of that, experimental evidence supports the notion that cacao powder helps improve physical health by reducing risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Long-term studies have yet to be conducted, but there is a substantial amount of epidemiological research on the long-term health benefits associated with dark chocolate, and cacao powder contains even more antioxidants, and far less sugar and fat, than dark chocolate.
Because of this, all the evidence indicates that cacao powder is very good for your health.
Q: Is cacao powder raw?
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. However, we do know that not all of them get destroyed—cocoa flavanols are still found in significant quantities in dark chocolate and cocoa powder, though not nearly to the extent they are found in cacao powder.
The potential benefits of the other compounds that are preserved in the raw form of cacao, like the enzymes, is less clear; there isn’t any research that’s specifically examined whether these enzymes have a notable contribution to the health benefits of cacao.
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: What is cacao powder?
A: Cacao powder is the dried and pressed powder that comes from the cacao bean, which is better known for being the source of chocolate.
The key difference is that cocoa powder (and all types of chocolate) is roasted in an oven before being pressed. The roasting process can destroy some of the antioxidants that are naturally present in the cacao beans.
Cacao powder is more bitter and has a more complex, less sweet taste than cocoa or chocolate, but has the benefit of containing all of the raw antioxidants that you won’t necessarily get in chocolate or cocoa.
Q: Where can you find cacao powder at the grocery store?
A: It can be tough to find cacao powder at the grocery store, since it’s still a niche product. Typically, it’s in the baking aisle right next to the regular cocoa powder.
It might be in a separate shelf specifically for organic and fair-trade baking products, but be careful when you get cacao powder at grocery stores—even if the bag says “cacao” on it, it may actually contain roasted cocoa powder. Check the ingredients list to be sure.
You’ll usually have a better chance at a co-op or a natural foods store, as these retailers are typically more in touch with the needs of health-conscious consumers. If you can’t find cacao powder at a local retailer, check our our rankings—all of our top picks can be ordered online.
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: What is cacao powder good for?
A: Cacao powder is a powerful source of antioxidants that can improve both physical and mental well-being. Like many other antioxidants, cacao powder appears to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by combating systemic inflammation and insulin sensitivity.
Moreover, cacao powder is also good for improving cognitive function by improvements in memory, increasing mood, and decreasing subjective feelings of cognitive fatigue.
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.
Q: What is the difference between raw cacao and cacao powder?
A: Cacao powder is a raw form of cacao. After being harvested, cacao beans are fermented and dried. In the chocolate-making process, they are then usually roasted, crushed, then pressed to separate the cocoa butter (i.e. most of the fats and oils) from the solid materials.
When cacao powder is made, the roasting process is skipped, and the raw beans are crushed and pressed. This still separates the fats from the rest of the solid materials; now the solids left are called cacao powder instead of cocoa powder.
Skipping the roasting process ensures that a substantially greater amount of antioxidants are left intact in the powder. As a result of these differences in processing, cacao powder is a raw food.
Some people use the term “raw cacao” to refer only to the cacao pods and beans, but among health food enthusiasts, the important distinction is between cacao, which is raw, and cocoa, which is not.
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.