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Cacao Nibs: What Are They and How to Use Them

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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.

How Are Cacao Nibs Made?

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.

Cacao Nibs Nutritional Information

Not only are 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:

Average Per 28g (1 serving)
Calories130
Protein4.0 g
Fat12.0 g
Fibre9.0 g
Sugar0.5 g
(sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture and Self Nutrition Data)

What about the minerals and other nutritional information?

MineralAverage Per 28g (1 serving)Recommended Daily Intake (RDI)
Iron1.1 mg16%
Magnesium64.0 mg16%
Phosphorus90.0 mg9%
Zinc0.9 mg6%
Manganese0.5 mg27%
Copper0.5 mg25%
(sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture and Self Nutrition Data)

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.

cacao nibs health benefits

Health Benefits of Cacao Nibs

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:

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

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.

Can Help With Blood Sugar

If you have issues with blood sugar control, then why not try to include nibs into your diet? Studies have shown that 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.

Boost Cognitive Functions

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.”

Where To Buy Cacao Nibs

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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do cacao nibs taste like?

Cacao nibs have a strong chocolatey taste. However, they are very low in sugar, which makes their flavour quite strong and bitter. Nibs are often paired with something slightly sweeter, such as fresh fruit. For example, they make for a brilliant garnish sprinkled on top of oats, yoghurt, or cereals.

What’s the difference between cocoa nibs and cacao nibs?

There is no difference between cocoa and cacao nibs. Cocoa and cacao are just two different ways of pronouncing the same product. If you’re interested in learning more, read our post on cacao vs cocoa here.

Can you eat cacao nibs raw?

Yes! It is safe to eat cacao nibs raw. Cacao nibs are roasted, which means any dangerous pathogens have already been removed.

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