I've heard cacao nibs referred to as nature’s chocolate chips. Ummm . . . chocolate chips they are not. Anyone I’ve seen taste cacao nibs for the first time usually gets a confused look on their face. They assume that because nibs come from the cacao tree, the nibs, like chocolate, should be sweet to some extent. Cacao nibs do have an unexpectedly bitter taste, particularly if you're about to toss them back under the impression that they are similar to chocolate chips.
BUT, nibs are fabulous, and a necessary addition to every kitchen.
For starters, cacao nibs are pieces of the cacao bean before that bean gets completely processed and blended with other ingredients to make chocolate. Cacao nibs start out as part of the cacao pods that grow on the Theobroma cacao tree (Greek for “food of the gods”). Inside the cacao pods are seeds or cacao beans. Cacao nibs are pieces of fermented, dried, roasted, and ground cacao beans.
Doesn't sound very sexy, hunh? Hang on.
Cacao was worshipped by the Mayans, who believed the cacao tree to be a gift from the gods. The nibs are said to be loaded with antioxidants, contain fiber, and are packed with minerals such as magnesium and iron. Cacao also contains theobromine, which is a natural stimulant, along like lines of caffeine, but less powerful. Cacao even has been known to be a mood-enhancer. (No brainer. Can you be sad while eating chocolate? And if even you were sad when you started eating chocolate, you can’t stay sad for long, can you?) So yes, of course you can understand why cacao was worshipped. Unfortunately, cacao nibs don’t get as much credit as they're due, always taking the backseat to chocolate.
While cacao nibs do have a somewhat bitter taste, they also have an unmistakably intense and wonderful aroma (like that of chocolate), and, you will taste some chocolate notes. Nibs are crunchy and slightly nutty. You can find nibs in gourmet stores and health-food stores, and they are offered in broken up pieces, making them easy to use in any recipe.
There are oh-so-many ways to enjoy cacao nibs. I almost always throw them in the food processor to grind them further before working them into anything else. Here are a few ways I've used my ground cacao nibs:
Sprinkled with brown sugar onto a roasted banana
Tossed into a fruit salad
Blended into a smoothie
Stirred into hummus
Added to ground coffee for steeping in my French press
How do you use cacao nibs?