If you are tempted to try cacao and carob powders, but are not quite sure what they are or what they are used for, here is a quick guide. A common misconception is that they are different names for cocoa powder, when in fact there are some significant differences.
Cacao powder is definitely not a misspelling of cocoa powder as some people assume! They do have similar origins, in that they are both beans of the Theobroma cacao plant. The beans are separated from the fatty cocoa butter, and then milled and processed. The difference lies in the method of processing.
To make cacao powder, the beans are processed at low temperatures, where they are still considered to be in a raw state. The beans are then milled into a powder, which because of the low processing levels, is dense in nutrients, minerals, and enzymes. The powder has a more bitter flavour than cocoa powder, but is considered to be more beneficial for health.
Cocoa powder is created by processing the beans at a much higher temperature. Cacao beans are only fermented, but cocoa beans are also roasted. The additional heating of the beans means that the resulting fine powder may lack some of the nutritional qualities of cacao powder, such as high levels of iron, copper, phosphorus and magnesium.
Cacao is also reported to be full of anti-oxidants, which are important for combatting oxidative stress which can build up in the body and brain, and may even lead to serious diseases such as cancer. In fact, a cup of cacao powder is believed to contain nearly twice the amount of antioxidants found in red wine, and three times the amount in green tea.
When using cacao powder as a substitute for cocoa powder, it is advisable to use less of it as the flavour is much stronger. It also absorbs liquid more easily so bear this in mind if you are using it in cake or biscuit mixtures. You will still have the rich chocolatey flavour, but build it up gradually until it suits your taste. It is also great added to smoothies and hot chocolate.
So what of carob powder? This is from a different origin entirely. The pods, also known as the locust bean or St John’s bread, come from an evergreen Mediterranean tree known as Fabaceae. The carob pods are roasted and ground into a fine powder.
Unlike cacao powder, carob powder is naturally sweet, so when used in cakes and puddings, little or no sugar needs to be added. In fact, it can be used as a sweetener for hot drinks, as well as a source of flavour.
The taste is more subtle than chocolate, but carob still makes an excellent baking ingredient. A great advantage is that it is naturally caffeine free, so if you are one of those poor souls who finds chocolate brings on a migraine, this could be the answer you are looking for!
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