Updated: May 17, 2019
What are cacao nibs?
Cacao nibs are small pieces of crushed cacao beans — or cocoa beans — that have a bitter, rich chocolate flavour. They are produced from the beans of the cocoa tree.
Cocoa beans are dried after harvesting, then fermented and cracked to produce small, dark bits, or ‘cacao nibs’.
Some cacao nibs are roasted while others are not. Unroasted cacao nibs are called ‘raw cacao nibs’.
Where do the cacao beans come from?
The cacao plant (theobroma cacaotree) originates from the fertile forests surrounding the Amazon River in South America, where it can still be found growing wild today. The small densely branched trees form the understory of the rainforest, thriving in the humid shady environment and nutrient rich soil surrounding the river.
Cacao nibs are rich in nutrients and powerful plant compounds that have been shown to benefit health in many ways.
All the good things you can find in raw cacao nibs:
Rich in theobromine which helps with blood circulation and has been shown to aid in lowering blood pressure.
High in magnesium which contributes to a reduction in tiredness.
Source of iron and copper which contribute to the normal function of the immune system.
Source of zinc and manganese which are essential for bone health, including bone development and maintenance.
Low in sugar (~3.5%)
Also a good source of fibre, protein, and healthy fats.
Excellent cholesterol regulator.
Cacao nibs are very easy to digest, thanks to the live enzymes found in raw cacao.
Rich in powerful antioxidants such as flavonoids antioxidants which help protect cells from a premature oxidation and may have anticancer properties.
Main benefits attributed to raw cacao
Anti-stress properties: Raw cacao boosts the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter which contributes to wellbeing and happiness (aka. ‘the happy chemical’). It is therefore perfect for a good balance of the nervous system and can help those who have mood swings, especially in case of premenstrual syndrome, when the serotonin level goes down. Raw cacao is also one of the richest foods in magnesium, known for its positive effects on stress.
Energy boost: Eating raw cacao also means refilling in phenylalanine, an amino acid that promotes alertness and boosts memory, as well as theobromine, a chemical compound known to inhibit fatigue symptoms.
Anti-inflammatory properties: chronic inflammation is harmful to the body and has been linked to various health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Foods high in antioxidants - such as cacao nibs - help combat this issue and can also improve the overall immune response of the body.
Blood sugar control: Some studies have shown that cocoa can help regulate blood sugar control and improve sensitivity to insulin, a hormone that helps cells absorb blood sugar.
Although cacao nibs are generally safe to eat, there are some potential side effects to take into consideration.
Cocoa beans contain caffeine and theobromine which act as stimulants on the body. As mentioned above, these compounds provide some great health benefits, but they can also cause adverse effects when consumed in excess. Therefore, eating an excessive amount of cacao nibs may cause side effects related to excess caffeine intake, including anxiety, jitteriness, and trouble sleeping.
Always prefer organic cacao to conventional cacao, to avoid in particular the presence of cadmium in the plant, a toxic metal classified as a human carcinogen by the WHO, and if possible, choose products from ethical sources, in order to protect the local producers and our ecosystem.
How to use Cacao Nibs
Cacao nibs are amongst the least processed cocoa products on the market and substantially lower in sugar than other chocolate products, making them a healthier alternative for chocolate lovers.
Here are some ideas to help you add a little raw cacao to your food throughout the day:
Sprinkle 40g to 50g of cacao nibs on top of your yoghurt, muesli or fruit salads.
Add cacao nibs to coffee drinks such as lattes and cappuccinos.
Use them in place of chocolate chips in granola recipes.
Mix some cacao nibs with bananas, milk (or plant-based equivalent), and agave syrup for a delicious refreshment!
The low sugar content in the cocoa beans makes it possible to use the nibs in savoury recipes:
Use the them in savoury sauces, such as barbecue sauces and Mexican mole sauces.
Crust steak or duck with crushed cacao nibs for a unique flavour.
Raw cocoa also works perfectly with game, pigeon and poultry such as turkey or chicken.
Here is a quick and easy recipe of Raw Cookies you can try:
80g of almonds
80g of hazelnuts
8 dried dates (or 8 dried apricots)
4 tbs. of coconut oil
3 tbs. cacao nibs
3 tbs. agave syrup
1 pinch of salt
1. Mix the almonds and hazelnuts together. 2. Add the dried dates (or dried apricots), the coconut oil, the cacao nibs, the agave syrup and the salt.
3. Mix to obtain a thick homogenous paste. 4. Roll into small balls and flatten to form the cookies.
5. Leave to rest in the fridge for 2 hours.