What Are Cacao Nibs—and 12 Tasty Ways to Use Them

They’re even better for you than dark chocolate.

cacao-nibs
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They’ve been touted as a superfood that’s packed with more antioxidants than dark chocolate. You’ve probably seen them all over the Internet adorning smoothie bowls. You know they must taste like cocoa because, well, it’s in their name. But what exactly are cacao nibs?

Think of them as an unprocessed form of the chocolate you know and love. The process begins with the cacao plant, which grows pods filled with cacao beans. The beans are shelled, dried and fermented, and ground up into the crunchy, bitter, intensely chocolate-tasting bits known as cacao nibs. Often times, the cacao then gets heated at high temperatures to reduce its bitter edge, and, unfortunately, some of its nutrients. At this point it becomes known as cocoa, and can be made into chocolate bars or cocoa powder.

Cacao nibs are crisp but delicate (their texture reminds us a bit of cashews). If you're new to the nib, start by sprinkling some over baked goods like brownies right before they go in the oven (this will give you a little taste of their flavor). If you enjoy it, try mixing in a couple tablespoons to your favorite baked goods as a stand in for dark chocolate chips. Think chocolate chip cookies, chocolate ice cream, banana bread, granola, and toffee.

There’s a reason cacao beans go hand in hand with smoothie bowls: they make a fantastic crunchy topping for smooth and tender bases. Try topping your bowl of morning oatmeal, ice cream, yogurt, or even fruit salad.

And let’s not forget savory dishes. Yes, savory: cacao nibs have no added sugar and bring a delicious, slightly smoky depth to meat dishes. We like to crust pork chops or steak with crushed up nibs before searing them. You’ll need to grind up the nibs with a spice mill or mortar and pestle. If you don’t have either, place them in a plastic bag and give them a few whacks with a rolling pin.

Look for cacao nibs at natural grocery stores (even Whole Foods carries them), or order them online. We love Navitas Naturals brand for its extra-crisp texture and slightly fruity flavor.