cacao nibs (kuh-kah-oh, –key-oh nibz) noun
The edible part of the cocoa bean. Cacao nibs (above, left) are the very essence of chocolate flavor and what every chocolate product begins with as a base. Cocoa beans (above, right) are extracted from the cacao pod where they are surrounded by pulp. After being separated from the pulp, fermented (usually) and dried, the resulting beans are roasted and cracked. The husks are then separated from the nibs to be used in chocolate production.
To make chocolate, nibs are ground into a thick paste referred to as chocolate “liquor” (even though it is not alcoholic). As the nibs naturally contain cocoa butter, so does the liquor. When this liquor is formed into bars, it is what the home baker refers to as unsweetened chocolate.
Nibs are small, about half the size of a sunflower seed but can range depending on the source.
- Cacao nibs used to be relegated to chocolate manufacturing, but they can now be purchased for home baking. They are sometimes described as “nut-like,” but we think this has more to do with their crunchy texture, not so much their taste. Their flavor is bitter and intense and can be an acquired taste. If you are an aficionado of very dark chocolates, 70% cacao and above, then their flavor will most likely delight you. Try substituting them for nuts in your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe or try our Bittersweet Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Cacao Nibs.
- Cacao nibs contain a high level of antioxidants, so if you are looking for the healthy attributes of chocolate, cacao nibs are the way to go. Once processed into chocolate bars, they are combined with sugar and sometimes milk solids and flavorings and none of those components contain the touted health benefits. Try sprinkling cacao nibs into your morning oatmeal.
- You can also find chocolate covered cacao nibs to eat as a snack or to incorporate into your recipes.
1. Sorting Out Chocolate, Fine Cooking, Issue #42, by Molly Stevens
2. Teubner Christian, The Chocolate Bible, Studio Publishers, 1997.
3. Presilla, Maricel, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, Ten Speed Press, 2009.