Guess what! Dark chocolate isn’t the only way to boost your health while satisfying chocolate cravings. In fact, cocoa powder offers impressive health benefits, and there are so many great ways to enjoy it.
So let’s talk a little about cocoa powder and what the scientific research says. Then let’s tackle some of the questions you may have about cocoa powder.
What Is Cocoa Powder?
Cocoa powder is made from the remains of fermented and roasted cocoa beans after they are pressed to remove the cocoa butter. However, the pressing process does not remove all the cocoa butter, so a thin layer of cocoa butter coats the remaining cocoa bean particles. These solid particles are ground into a fine powder.
Interestingly, the chocolate flavor comes from the cocoa bean solids rather than the cocoa butter. So cocoa powder is the most concentrated version of chocolate and incredibly rich in flavor.
How Cocoa Powder Is Made
There are two versions of cocoa powder: Natural and Dutch Processed.
Natural cocoa powder is made from ground cocoa bean solids after extracting the cocoa butter. It has a pH of 5 or 6, making it slightly acidic and more bitter and astringent than Dutch processed cocoa powder. Natural cocoa powder does not mix well with water, so it doesn’t work well for cooking or baking.
Dutch processed cocoa powder is made by washing natural cocoa powder in a potassium carbonate solution or adding baking soda to neutralize some of the acidity and make it mix with water easier. Dutch processed cocoa powder has a pH of 7 (the same pH as water) or 8. It is darker and more mellow flavored than natural cocoa powder. Dutch cocoa powder works well as an ingredient in all your favorite chocolate foods and beverages.
7 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder
There are SO many health benefits of cocoa! Isn’t it fun to learn that something so delicious is also healthy?
1. Cocoa powder is rich in polyphenols (antioxidants)
Polyphenols in cocoa powder have been linked to health benefits like reduced inflammation, increased blood flow, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol and blood sugar. (Frontiers in Nutrition)
2. Cocoa powder may decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Flavanol-rich cocoa improves the nitric oxide level in your blood, which relaxes and dilates your arteries and blood vessels and improves blood flow. Cocoa also reduces LDL “bad cholesterol,” helping to improve blood sugar and reduce inflammation. These properties are linked to lower risks of heart attack and stroke. (Frontiers in Nutrition)
3. Increases Blood Flow and Brain Power.
The powerful antioxidants in cocoa powder help to prevent or delay certain types of damage to our cells, which is especially important for adult brains that eventually stop replacing dead or dying neurons.
Antioxidants preserve our brain cells by counteracting the damaging effects of free radicals and may reverse memory loss. And the primary flavonoid in cocoa powder - epicatechin - was proven to improve cognitive function. (The Journal of Nutrition)
4. Cocoa consumption may help you to relax.
Studies show that those who ingest cocoa regularly enjoy more calmness and less depression. (Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews)
5. Cocoa may help decrease hunger and even assist in weight loss.
While chocolate may not be helpful because it usually contains added sugar and fats, cocoa is. Cocoa helps regulate the use of energy, reduces appetite, and increases fat oxidation and feelings of fullness. (Molecular Nutrition and Food Research)
6. May reduce cancer risk.
Cocoa has yielded positive results in reducing breast, pancreatic, prostate, liver, and colon cancer, as well as leukemia in animal studies. (Food and Chemical Toxicology)
7. May help improve skin complexion.
The antioxidants in cocoa also provide significant benefits for the skin including sun protection and improvements to the skin’s surface (think natural anti-wrinkle). (The Journal of Nutrition)
Answers to Your Questions About Cocoa Powder
How Many Calories in Cocoa Powder?
Unsweetened cocoa powder is very low in calories totaling just 12 calories per tablespoon. That said, cocoa powder by itself is incredibly bitter and difficult to mix.
Most cocoa powder is consumed through powdered mixes and chocolate products. Unfortunately, these most often include significant amounts of added sugar, fats, and preservatives. Sweetened cocoa powder contains 45 calories or more per tablespoon.
Momsanity’s Crave natural cocoa powder blend is a deliciously creamy powder that contains 30 calories per scoop. Crave is made from simple, nutritious ingredients: Cocoa powder, Branch Chain Amino Acids, MCT (coconut) powder, and monk fruit as a sweetener - that satisfy naturally with no processed sugar, artificial sweeteners, or preservatives. As a comparison, Ghirardelli cocoa mix has 90 calories and 19 grams of sugar per serving.
How Many Carbs in Cocoa Powder?
Unsweetened cocoa powder has just 3 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon, including 1 gram of fiber. However, as mentioned above, most cocoa products contain significant amounts of sugar.
On the other hand, Crave Cocoa contains just 4 grams of carbohydrates, including 2 grams of fiber and 1 gram of sugar alcohols (from the monk fruit) - compared to Ghirardelli cocoa powder with 22 grams of carbohydrates per serving including 19 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber. Interestingly, this product (which is dairy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, etc.) includes 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving and 20 grams of sugar!!!!
How Much Caffeine in Cocoa Powder?
Cocoa powder has about 10 milligrams of caffeine per teaspoon (5-10 times less than coffee).
How Much Cocoa Powder A Day For Health Benefits?
Unfortunately, researchers don't agree on a specific daily amount. While the European Food Safety Authority recommends 0.1 ounces (2.5 grams) of high-flavanol cocoa powder daily for heart health, other researchers deem this number too low.
One thing the researchers do agree on is that the more cocoa powder consumed by research subjects, the greater the benefits.
To make things simple, avoid consuming more than four to six teaspoons of raw cocoa in a day.
What Can I Make With Cocoa Powder?
You can enjoy beverages, breakfasts, snacks, and desserts made with cocoa powder.
Beverage ideas include: hot cocoa, chocolate milk, mocha coffee, chocolate shakes, and more!
Breakfast options include: chocolate pancakes, chocolate waffles, chocolate crepes, chocolate smoothies, and more!
Desserts include: pudding, brownies, truffles, mug cake, fudge, chocolate peanut butter cups or bars, syrup, cookies, and more!
How To Store Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, such as a pantry or cupboard. When stored properly, it can last for years. Avoid the fridge or freezer, as these foster humid environments.
How Long Does Cocoa Powder Last?
Typically, unopened cocoa powder has a shelf life of three years. When properly stored, an opened container has a shelf life of one year. Like most baking essentials, cocoa powder lasts best in a cool, dry area with a tightly sealed lid. Otherwise, cocoa powder will begin to clump and expire sooner.
For More Delicious Ways to Enjoy the Health Benefits of Cocoa Powder
Grab our 9 Fast & Easy Crave Cocoa Recipes collection.
Ludovici, V., Barthelmes, J., Nagle, M.P., Enseleit, F., Ferri, C., Flammer, A.J., Ruschitzka, F., & Sudano, I. (2017, August 2). Cocoa, Blood Pressure, and Vascular Function. Foundations of Nutrition. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28824916/
Nurk, E., Refsum, H., Drevon, C.A., Tell, G.S., Nygaard, H.A., Engedal, K., Smith, A.D. (2009, January). Intake of Flavanoid-rich Wine, Tea, and Chocolate by Elderly Men and Women Is Associated With Better Cognitive Test Performance. Journal of Nutrition. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19056649/
Sokolov, A.N., Pavlova, M.A., Klosterhalven, S., Enck, P. (2013, December). Chocolate and the Brain: Neurobiological Impact of Cocoa Flavanols on Cognition and Behavior. Neuroscience and Behavioral Reviews. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23810791/
Ali, F., Ismail, A., Kersten, S. (2014, January). Molecular Mechanisms Underlying the Potential Antiobesity-related Diseases Effect of Cocoa Polyphenols. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24259381/
Martin, M.A., Goya, L., Ramos, S. (2013, June). Potential for Preventive Effects of Cocoa and Cocoa Polyphenols in Cancer. Food and Chemical Toxicology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23439478/
Heinrich, U., Neukam, K., Tronnier, H., Sies, H., Stahl, W. (2006, June). Long-term Ingestion of High Flavanol Cocoa Provides Photoprotection Against UV-induced Erythema and Improves Skin Condition in Women. Journal of Nutrition. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16702322/