Cacao, Cocoa, Coca: a Chaotic Confusion

Cacao, cocoa, coca, all those words sound the same, yet they all refer to different things. You might have encountered them while reading about alternative development, or simply when going shopping and having to choose between cacao powder and cocoa powder.

 Credit Chocolero

Credit Chocolero

The two words probably most difficult to differentiate are cocoa and cacao. Cacao refers to the seed itself, or to the tree on which it grows. As long as the beans are raw and have not undergone any roasting, they are still referred to as cacao. Once they have been processed, we call them cocoa. At that point, the shells are removed from the beans, leaving cocoa nibs, the basis to make chocolate. After this stage, the cocoa nibs are added to a paste called cocoa mass. That chocolate liquor can be directly used in the making of chocolate bars, or processed again to extract the cocoa butter (used in the production of chocolate bar, but also in beauty products).  The remaining product after eliminating the fat, called cocoa presscake, is crushed into the cocoa powder that we use for the famous hot chocolatey drink that we enjoy during cold winter nights. The last steps to make the chocolate bar that we eat at home are simply to heat the cocoa mass and cocoa butter together, add the necessary sugar and milk, slowly let it cool down, pour it into moulds, remove them and wrap it up (Equal Exchange).

 Credit  Pixabay

Credit Pixabay

Coca, on the other hand, cannot be found in your local supermarket. The leaf is grown on bushes in tropical environments and goes through a simple process to create the base form of cocaine. After being dried, the leaf is mixed with ammonia or baking soda and water, then heated to remove the hydrochloride. This method transforms the original leaf into a smokable drug that can be cut with other substances to be injected afterwards (NIDA, 2016).  Once consumed, the drug provokes stimulant effects, ensued by a strong addictiveness. However, coca does not only have disadvantages: it has been chewed by Latin Americans for thousands of years because of its medicinal properties. It has even been used by surgeons to block pain, although such practice has been forbidden ever since the discovery that coca can alter brain structure and function when used repeatedly. The leaf was also included in the original recipe of the world-famous fizzy drink Coca-Cola, which explains the name of the brand. That ingredient was replaced overtime by less harmful substitutes (ibid). 

Reference List:      

Equal Exchange. What Is The Difference Between "Cacao" And "Cocoa?".

Equal Exchange. From Bean to Bar.

NIDA (2016). What is cocaine?