Cacao nibs have slowly been making their way as the superfood amongst health-conscious consumers. However, what actually are nibs and how can we use them? In this post, we examine how they are made, their nutritional benefits, and how you can add them into your diet.
Cacao nibs are pieces of cocoa beans, which come from the Theobroma cacao tree. To make nibs, the beans are first fermented and then dried before they’re roasted and cracked. If you’re interested in the specific details of this process then take a look at our post on the bean to bar journey.
What’s left after the beans have been cracked is a brittle shell, along with the nibs. The shell, which can incidentally be used to make tea, is removed through a process known as winnowing. In the bean to bar process cacao nibs are then ground into a paste with sugar and sometimes milk powder to eventually make chocolate bars.
However, it’s also possible to eat these crunchy nibs in their purest form before they’re converted into chocolate. In fact, just like chocolate, nibs have been proven to have tremendous health benefits.
Not only are cacao nibs delicious, but they also have countless health benefits. Pure cacao nibs are naturally high in fibre, protein, and healthy fats, yet low in sugar. They are also a brilliant plant-based source of iron; making it a great addition to the vegan diet. Below we’ve listed some of the nutritional information of cacao nibs:
In 28g. (1 oz.) of cacao nibs, you get:
• 130 calories
• 4.0g. of protein
• 12.0g. of fat
• 9.0g. of fibre
• 0.5g. of sugar
• Iron 1.1mg; 8% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)
• Magnesium 64.0mg; 16% of RDI
• Phosphorus 90.0mg; 9% of RDI
• Zinc 0.9mg; 6% of RDI
• Manganese 0.5mg; 27% of RDI
• Copper 0.5mg; 25% of RDI
Despite their small size, nibs are packed full of nutrients which are vital for maintaining a healthy body and mind. Your body, for example, requires magnesium for at least 300 different enzyme systems that regulate biochemical reactions in the body.
Magnesium is one of the many minerals that is often lacking in our daily diets. However, just 28 grams of nibs added to your morning breakfast provides you with nearly a third of your daily recommended intake.
Copper and iron are needed to produce red blood cells, which supply the body with oxygen. Whilst zinc is an essential mineral that the human body can neither make nor store. Zinc is crucial in the growth of cells, DNA synthesis, wound healing, immune function and many more.
All of these nutrients are hidden inside cacao nibs, however, the many health benefits do not end there – let’s take a closer look at this in the next section.
We discussed how nibs are made, and their nutritional composition. Let’s now take a closer look at the many health benefits associated with adding this superfood to your diet:
Short-term inflammation is a crucial form of self-defence mechanism by the body. Inflammation is a response by your immune system to damaged cells or foreign viruses and bacteria, and without it, the smallest infections could be deadly.
However, long-term or chronic inflammation is when the body is constantly in self-defence mode despite there not actually being an injury or disease. Chronic inflammation is caused when there are too many free radicals present in the body, and has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Luckily, there are foods rich in antioxidants, which have anti-inflammatory properties – cacao nibs being one of them. In fact, nibs are extremely rich in antioxidants, and some studies show that cacao reduces the activation of protein NF-κB, a catalyst for inflammatory processes in the body. Other studies suggest that cocoa polyphenols can reduce intestinal inflammation and related cancer development.
If you’ve got issues with blood sugar control, then you might want to try including nibs into your diet. Studies have shown that cacao nibs can improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin; the hormone that helps regulate and absorb blood sugar.
One study in 2015 examines the effect of cocoa on inflammation, blood pressure, and glycemic control on 60 individuals with Type 2 diabetes. After eight weeks, patients who had consumed cocoa saw improvements in health indicators such as fasting blood sugar and A1C levels, whilst also reducing blood pressure.
A more recent study in 2017 showcased that cocoa has an anti-diabetic effect, thanks to cocoa flavonoids and its antioxidant properties. Nibs are ideal for individuals struggling with blood sugar issues as they provide all of the health benefits with no added sugar.
A study published in 2017 in the journal Frontiers of Nutrition suggested that regularly consuming cacao “improves cognition, attention, processing speed, and working memory.” As well as aiding in cognitive functions, the results also suggest that cacao helps protect and even reverse signs of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Further studies highlight that foods high in flavonoids, such as cacao, stimulate the growth and connectivity of nerve cells in the brain. A study published in 2016 finds “cocoa flavanols led to higher serum BDNF levels and better cognitive performance.”
Nowadays, nibs can be found online and in supermarkets. One fallacy that you’ll find on a lot of packaging is ‘Raw Cacao Nibs.’ To produce nibs, cacao beans must ferment and be roasted, both processes will see the temperature reach a higher limit allowed for raw food. This doesn’t mean it’s not healthy! In fact, roasting kills off many dangerous pathogens lingering on the beans – so don’t be fooled by marketing claims on raw cacao.
If you’re looking for the best cacao nibs around, then be sure to check out nibs offered by craft chocolate makers. These are guaranteed to have the most flavour and derive from ethical sources.
Original Beans, for example, offers ultra-rare cacao nibs from Tanzania with a fruity and aromatic taste. Pump Street in the UK sell delicious nibs from Ecuadorian cocoa beans, whilst craft chocolate maker Mānoa offer their own Hawaiian nibs.
If you’ve read this far, then chances are you’re interested in finding out how to add nibs into your diet. The good news is that there is no shortage of foods that complement nibs.
Although they can be eaten at anytime of day, nibs are particularly popular for breakfast. They make for a brilliant garnish sprinkled on top of oats, yoghurt or cereals. Be aware that the very low sugar content can make them taste quite strong and bitter – this is why nibs are often paired with something slightly sweeter such as fresh fruit.
Below we’ve made a brief list of recipes that include nibs to give you some inspiration:
• Oatmeal with Cacao Nibs and Figs
• Paleo Coconut Cacao Nib Granola
• Coconut Yogurt with Blood Oranges and Cacao Nibs
• Twice-Roasted Duck with Salted Orange, Cocoa Nibs and Coffee
• Spiced Cacao Cold Brew Coffee
Whilst there are no shortage of articles (like this one) presenting the various benefits of cacao nibs, it’s important to note that the research is sparse and opinions torn. The very word ‘superfood’ is commonly debated and their is no scientific criteria for this, which often sparks debate. One thing we all seem to agree on is that this bi-product of our favourite food is a delicious, crunchy and easy way to add cacao to the menu.
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