Learn about cacao nibs and where they come from as well as recipes, how to use nibs and much more!
When we think of chocolate, we think of a product that is far removed from the cocoa tree and bean it came from.
One way to get back to the source of chocolate is with the nib.
Cacao/cocoa nibs are the rawest form of cocoa most popular as a consumer product.
After cocoa beans are harvested and roasted, they are husked to remove the outer shell and then broken into smaller pieces and sifted to remove small particles. What's left is a small piece of cocoa called a nib.
Cocoa nibs have grown in popularity with the growth of the healthy and organic food trends.
Nibs make a great healthy alternative to chocolate chips. And while they are bitter to eat alone, they are great sprinkled on desserts or savory dishes. You can also bake with them.
Despite cocoa nibs being an early stage product of the cocoa bean processing, modern technology combined with ancient methods are helping producers create high quality nibs that produce a deep chocolate flavor reflecting the growing conditions of environment—known as the "terroir" of the chocolate.
Growing and Processing Cacao Nibs
Once a new cocoa plant has grown for three or four years, it will start producing cocoa pods. In each pod, as much as 50 beans can be harvested with the stroke of a machete.
The beans are then manually separated from the pod and left in bins or grates to ferment. Over the course of 4 - 7 days, the cocoa beans are fermented, which helps reduce bitterness.
Once that process is over, they are either taken to dry in the sun or through other methods. The sun-dried method is always a higher quality as it ripens the flavor of the beans.
During this process, a tough outer layer is formed around the cocoa beans. This outer "shell" is removed before breaking the cocoa beans into nibs.
For many years, this tough external layer was considered less desirable because it had a bitter, nutty and crunchy taste. Today, it is considered a delicacy and is one of the healthiest ways to consume cocoa.
After the shell is removed, the nibs are made by carefully crushing and then sifting. At this point, you have a small piece of pure chocolate.
The flavor of the nib first depends on the variety of cocoa plant.
Forastero, the most commonly grown strain, has a fruity and bitter flavor. The native Crillo beans are creamy with almost no bitterness while the hybrid Trinitero beans are sharp and fruity.
Health Benefits of Cocoa Nibs
Chocolate is usually filled with sugar and additives that make it sweet or preserve the texture and look of the product. While this is appealing to most, it has far fewer health benefits (and more health risks due to sugar consumption) than cocoa nibs.
The cocoa nib health benefits provide everything that is healthy about chocolate without any of the sugar or additives.
First, cocoa nibs provide a high quantity of antioxidants, which can help bolster immune health, prevent diseases like cancer, and reduce inflammation. However, because the cacao nib is a more pure form of the cocoa bean, it has higher antioxidant content than any other form of chocolate.
A Harvard Medical School study on the Kuna people of Panama, showed significantly lower rates of heart disease compared to mainland peoples with no cocoa consumption. The scientists and researchers at Harvard concluded that improved blood flow from flavanols in cocoa helped improve heart health.
That same enhanced blood flow showed cocoa can improve memory and learning ability. It also prevents age related neurological decline, which is becoming a bigger problem in the western world.
Additionally, cacao nibs are a perfect source of fiber and micronutrients. In a single ounce of nibs, you can get 18% of your daily fiber allotment. Within that same serving there is 21% of your daily requirement for iron and magnesium as well.
While cocoa nibs have less caffeine than coffee, it does have some stimulating properties. This is due to the small quantity of caffeine in the nibs in addition to theobromine, a stimulant specific to the cocoa plant that has a relaxing effect.
Finding High Quality Cocoa Nibs
Now that you understand the process for creating cocoa nibs and the health benefits associated with the product, it’s important to seek out the highest quality nibs that you can find.
Cocoa is one of the most sprayed food crops in the world because it is susceptible to disease and pests. Because of this, the cocoa fats (within the cocoa bean) collect the pesticides and are in the cocoa nibs when you consume them.
This is why it's paramount that you consume only the highest quality organic nibs you can find.
Not only are organic nibs beneficial for you and your health, it is also better for the forested regions where cacao is grown. With conventional cocoa, pesticides pollute local water supplies and kill wildlife.
Another objective is to find fair trade cacao nibs because the cocoa manufacturing process is so labor intensive. There are reports from Africa of forced child labor and poor conditions for workers. With fair trade products, you are more likely to get humanely grown, manufactured, and produced cocoa nibs.
Check out our three Wild cocoa nib options:
Wild Raw Nibs - Organic nibs and nothing else
Wild Roasted Nibs - Organic nibs that have been roasted to remove more bitterness
Wild Sweet Nibs - Organic nibs rolled lightly in organic coconut sugar