Cacao and cocoa – they appear the same when you look at their spelling, right? You wouldn’t be wrong to say that they are similar, as they both come from one plant – Theobroma cacao.
However, there’s a lot of differences between cacao powder and the old school Hershey’s cocoa powder from back in the day, so let’s go over what exactly makes them different.
Also known as the Cacao Tree, the plant our beloved chocolate comes from is native to South America and West Africa, producing the most amazing (and kind of crazy-looking) pods that hang off the trunk of the tree. Seriously, go Google it…so strange!
When the pod is removed from the tree, cacao beans are released and can be ground into cacao nibs or pressed into cacao oil/butter – the fatty part of cacao fruit. What is left of the fruit is then used to make raw cacao powder. This process is what makes cacao powder such a pure form of chocolate – it is so close to the raw state at which it was harvested. 
One of the biggest differentiating factors between cacao and the old school cocoa, is how they are processed. Cacao, like we mentioned above, is considered essentially raw because it is made from unprocessed, un-roasted cacao beans. During this process, you can preserve the living enzymes and overall nutritional content.
Cocoa powder on the other hand has been processed with high heat. With cocoa powder, the beans are roasted at high temperatures. This destroys some of the enzyme and nutritional content of the fruit, but doesn’t void it completely. You can still get some of the beneficial properties of the cacao plant by using the more processed cocoa. [1,2]
But let’s be real, with all the benefits of raw cacao, it’s hard to want to use anything less. Raw cacao is loaded with fiber and magnesium, which helps with digestion and lowering insulin resistance. It also contains high amounts of the antioxidant red wine is famous for, resveratrol. 
Even further, a study found some pretty great news for the future of chocolate. The study was looking at the high amounts of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, found in raw cacao and in processed cocoa. In their conclusion they stated that these cocoa flavonoids “unequivocally demonstrated” a reduction in inflammation-causing enzymes and inflammatory mediators in the body.