There has been a lot of buzz about cocoa nibs recently, but what exactly are they?
What are cocoa nibs?
Cocoa nibs are pieces of crushed cocoa bean. Once the beans have been fermented, dried, and roasted, the next step in the making process is to “crack and winnow”.
Cracking involves crushing the beans into very small pieces, which leaves a mix of cocoa nibs and thin, papery shells. Winnowing is the process of removing these shells by blowing them with a hairdryer (the shells are lighter so they get blown away).
These nibs are generally made into chocolate. But they can also be eaten just as they are. This is ‘chocolate’ at its purest – no added sugar, no milk, no flavourings and almost no processing. And just like the chocolate they are turned into, cocoa nibs have been shown to have many different nutritional benefits.
Cocoa nibs naturally contain a significant amount of fibre (about 9g per ounce) as well as magnesium, potassium and more calcium than cow’s milk. Cocoa beans are a plant-based source of iron. On top of this, cocoa contains high levels of flavonoids, particularly epicatechin, which studies have shown to have a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health.
Of course, all of this can also be said of chocolate, but without any added sugar or milk cocoa nibs are the healthiest way to get these benefits.
What do they taste like?
It’s not just about eating something that’s good for you, however; it’s about eating something that tastes good. Cocoa nibs have a slightly nutty texture, comparable to cashews or macadamia nuts. The nibs aren’t as bitter as you might expect as the flavour is less intense and generally fruitier.
Our Madagascan nibs by Menakao have a particularly pronounced fruity aroma with a roasted undernote. Sharp citrus mixes with orange and cranberries. The profile is similar to Menakao’s dark bars but with a raw, unprocessed edge: the same flavours are present but haven’t been focused and refined as in a bar.
So what to do with these delicious and diverse cocoa nibs? They’re a wonderfully versatile cooking ingredient that you can use in both sweet and savoury dishes. Here are some of our favourite ways to use them:
- Start your day with a crunch. Add a sprinkling of cocoa nibs to your morning porridge, giving it a little more texture and a roasted chocolatey note. For a deliciously fruity breakfast, why not use Menakao’s roasted nibs and add in a handful of dried fruit to bring out the beans’ own flavours.
- Bake to perfection. Described by some as ‘nature’s chocolate chip’ cocoa nibs can be added into cakes, cookies, biscuits, brownies, muffins and more! Cooking will soften the nibs a little but they’ll still retain some of their crunch. Remember that while the nibs are bursting with intense flavours, they’ve none of the added sugar that chocolate does. So you might need to adjust your recipe accordingly.
- Top everything. Don’t stop at porridge and baked goods. We think a liberal sprinkle of cocoa nibs can improve any number of dishes from your superfood smoothie, to yogurt and granola, to rice pudding or pancakes.
- Be bold. Chocolate might be regarded as a sweet treat, but nibs don’t have to be. Just like nuts and seeds cocoa nibs make a great addition to salads.
- A simple snack. Instead of munching on dried fruits or nuts, why not try a handful of cocoa nibs to keep you going throughout the day. Keep a little sachet by your desk for when you need a sugar-free chocolate fix.
How do you use cocoa beans? Let us know your favourite recipes.