6.5 min read
Six years ago, Iman and I had no idea what cacao nibs were and what these brown hard stuff is for. The term “superfood” seemed to be an overused marketing tool; a food fad. When we started eliminating rubbish from our meals and studying which whole foods yield the greatest nutrients because of our health quest, we discovered bitter chocolate gold in the form of cacao nibs. It is actually the uncle (or aunt) of the yummy chocolate bars we are addicted to. 😊
Nowadays, if you search #cacaonibs on Instagram, you’ll find hundreds of thousands of beautiful, yummy posts. Cacao nibs are so versatile whether you add them to a smoothie, a breakfast bowl, a dessert, savory viands and other recipes that require chocolate-boosting flavors.
So what are cacao nibs? Why do I say that it’s the uncle of chocolate bars? Here’s why:
Remember our farm-to-bar illustration how chocolates are made from the fruit cacao pods until the point that it becomes chocolates? During roasting, the shell of the cocoa bean separates from the bean kernel and is removed in the first step of the cracking or fanning process. The beans are cracked (not crushed) by being passed through serrated cones. The cracked beans are now what we called cacao nibs.
As the shell is dry and lightweight, it can be winnowed from the cacao nib. Winnowing is done by exposure to a current of air, so that the shells are blown free of the heavier nibs.
Now if these cacao nibs are further processed i.e. they are ground BUT not to the point that they liquify, this is what we call Ground Cacao. If we move further in the production process and the ground cacao is ground to the point that it liquifies, it becomes what is technically known as “Cocoa Liquor” (minus the alcohol!). Click here for our article on the process of making chocolates from the farm. The chocolate maker then decides whether she will want this cocoa liquor to become CHOCOLATES (like couverture, chocolatl or bars) or Cocoa Powder. The latter is when the essential cocoa butter is removed leaving only the powder which now serves mostly as a flavoring to chocolate recipes.
AMAZING BENEFITS OF CACAO NIBS
Cacao contains polyphenols that prohibits oxidation of the body’s molecules. It neutralizes and removes free radicals in the bloodstream that might cause chronic diseases.
In a controlled study made by the Penn State University, shows that eating dark chocolates and nuts regularly has been shown to have favorable effects in Coronary Heart Disease.  The study showed that chocolate and almond diet provided a great decrease in small dense LDL particles.
A diet rich in fiber prevents constipation, controls blood sugar, and helps in lowering the cholesterol.
Cacao is noted to be an excellent source of magnesium.  Magnesium is an antiarrhythmic and hypotensive agent, and its deficiency has been linked to the metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and diabetes. Other minerals found in cacao are iron, copper, potassium and zinc.
Cacao may help in  providing relief in bronchial asthma by relaxing and opening constricted bronchial tubes.
Cacao improves positive mood as well. Studies have shown that its flavonols helps combat depression and it also promotes aphrodisiac effects  by releasing serotonin and phenylethylamine that enhances mood and attention.
According to a publication by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology,  researchers suggest that cacao extract may offer a protective effect that reduces wrinkle formation. It also boosts skin by improving blood flow, skin density and hydration.
CACAO NIBS SHELF LIFE
To prolong the shelf life of cocoa beans, a study was conducted to store cocoa nibs in plastic lined jute bags. Acid, moisture content and water activity, microbial growth is minimal and no yeast and mold were detected. Chemical and microbial compositions for all samples analyzed during the storage duration are within acceptable limit. Therefore, cocoa nibs packed in jute bags layered with either type of the three plastic materials can be safely stored for at least two years without quality deterioration. 
Cacao nibs are truly healthy and rightly deserves the title of “superfood”. It is also delicious and versatile for almost any kind of dish. I want to recommend this recipe which we regularly cook at home because we don’t need to add sweetener since it’s a savory dish. Check out our Grilled Salmon recipe using cacao nibs!
Serving tips: nature's natural chocolate chips
NICE CREAM - Stir a spoonful of cocoa nibs into ice cream or gelato for a boost of rich, dark chocolatey flavor and texture. Make your own healthy ice cream by using frozen bananas! No other sweetener is needed.
Photo from the Feed Feed
SUBSTITUTE OR ADD ON YOUR COOKIE DOUGH - Allergic to any type of nuts? Give your cookie a crunch by either swapping nuts with cocoa nibs (or add it with).
Photo from the Monday Box
MIX INTO BAKED GOODS /PANCAKES - Stir in a spoonful of cocoa nibs into the batter before baking.
ADD THEM TO YOUR BREAKFAST - For a pop of chocolate flavor and crunch in your granola, swap (or add it with)cocoa nibs in for a portion of the nuts in your favorite granola mix or sprinkle them on top of yogurt for a little sweet crunch in your breakfast bowl. Cocoa nibs will add a touch of sweetness to your plain yogurt without adding extra sugar.
SMOOTHIES - Add a chocolate twist by adding and blending cocoa nibs with your morning or post workout smoothie.
SPRINKLE ON SALADS OR ROASTED VEGGIES - Try sprinkling a few cocoa nibs into your salad for instant nutty-savory flavor.
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Medscape Medical News 2017. Daily Dose of Almonds, Dark Chocolate May Improve Lipid Profile - Medscape - Dec 04, 2017
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Giovanni Scapagnini,1,2,*Sergio Davinelli,1,2Laura Di Renzo,3Antonino De Lorenzo,3Hector Hugo Olarte,4 Giuseppe Micali,5 Arrigo F. Cicero,6 and Salvador Gonzalez7,8.Cocoa Bioactive Compounds: Significance and Potential for the Maintenance of Skin Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4145303/
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Robert Vassallo, M.D., James J. Lipsky, M.D. Theophylline: Recent Advances in the Understanding of Its Mode of Action and Uses in Clinical Practice http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)63701-4/fulltext
Matthew P Pase, Andrew B Scholey, Andrew Pipingas, Marni Kras, Karen Nolidin, Amy Gibbs, Keith Wesnes, Con Stough. Cocoa polyphenols enhance positive mood states but not cognitive performance: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. First Published January 29, 2013. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881112473791
Jong-Eun Kim, et.al Oral Supplementation with Cocoa Extract Reduces UVB-Induced Wrinkles in Hairless Mouse Skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology.May 2016 Volume 136, Issue 5, Pages 1012–1021. http://www.jidonline.org/article/S0022-202X(16)00457-7/abstract
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Ecole Chocolat Lecture on discussion on Chocolate History and Processing