Cacao (pronounced ka-kow) nibs are cacao beans that have been separated from their husks, roasted, and broken into smaller pieces. Cacao beans, also cocoa bean, or cocoa or cacao, is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of Theobroma cacao and are the source of all chocolate and cocoa products.
Cacao nibs have a nutty chocolaty taste but are not sweet like chocolate, in fact it has a slight bitter taste. If you are not fond of the bitter taste, you can get sweetened cacao nibs. You can snack on cacao nibs right out of the bag, in a trail mix, in smoothies or in cooking and baking.
I have never been a fan of dark chocolate because of the bitter taste but I wanted to try the cacao nibs since they have many health benefits. I got the sweetened nibs and was pleasantly surprised that it was pretty good. I tried a few different brands of sweetened cacao nibs and some were better than others. I noticed that my head felt clearer during the times when I ate the cacao nibs. I had a friend try them and she said that it kept her awake during her drive to work.
I tried 4 different packs of cacao nibs starting with the BioBalance and really liked the nutty, slight sweetness but there were some bitter after taste. It wasn’t so bad to put me off them. The Raw Food Factory brand is very similar to the BioBalance, tasted pretty identical.
The Earth Circle Organics cacao nibs I didn’t like, too bitter for my liking and I couldn’t taste any sea salt.
The Navitas Naturals cacao nibs I didn’t like either, the pieces were much smaller and harder.
Benefits of cacao nibs
Cacao nibs are:
- High in antioxidants
- High in Magnesium, minerals, and B Vitamins
- Supports the cardiovascular, nervous and muscular systems
- Rich in mood-elevating nutrients
Cacao nibs have twice the antioxidant levels of red wine and three times those of green tea. Cacao nibs are rich in magnesium and other minerals (including calcium, copper, phosphorus, potassium and zinc) to support good cardiovascular function. They are also packed with natural ‘feel good’ nutrients (serotonin, dopamine, anandamide, phenylethylamine) that help to lift the mood and promote a sense of well-being.
Magnesium: Cacao beans are one of the best dietary sources of magnesium — a mineral needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies — with 272 milligrams per 100 grams. It’s important for muscle and nerve function and keeps the heart rhythm steady.
Fibre: You don’t get any dietary fibre when you eat a chocolate bar, but you do get some when you snack on cacao nibs: one ounce has nine grams!
Iron: Iron, which is necessary for red blood cell production, is found in cacao nibs. An ounce of the raw nibs has six per cent of your recommended daily iron intake.
Antioxidants: Surely you’ve heard about the antioxidant power of dark chocolate — well, that goes even more for cacao beans, especially when eaten raw. Antioxidants are important for health because they absorb the free radicals that cause damage in the body.
Mood Improver: Neurotransmitters are the messengers in our brains that tell our bodies how to act, and that includes mood. Cacao’s ability to act on those neurotransmitters is why it’s known for its mood-enhancing skills. Chocolate and cacao stimulates the brain to release particular neurotransmitters that can trigger emotions — including good ones like euphoria. That’s why some people say chocolate is better than sex!
Phenylethylamine (PEA): This is a chemical found in cacao, one that our bodies also make naturally. We produce PEA, an adrenal-related chemical, when we’re excited — it causes the pulse to quicken, making us feel focused and alert.
Anandamide: Anandamide, a lipid found in cacao, is another compound tied to cacao’s feel-good properties. This lipid has been called “the bliss molecule”, because its natural molecular shape represents that of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Theobromine: Cacao beans do have a couple of controversial ingredients, though. One of them is theobromine, which makes up one to two per cent of the cacao bean and is a nervous system stimulant that dilates the blood vessels — much like caffeine. This ingredient is what makes cacao and chocolate unsafe for dogs, and some people find that it affects them the way caffeine might.
Oxalic Acid: Oxalic acid is a compound found in cacao that inhibits the absorption of calcium, a mineral that’s also found in the food. So though there is calcium in cacao, it’s not considered a good calcium source for this reason. The good news is that you’re getting more of the calcium by eating cacao than you are if you eat processed chocolate, because the sugar found in chocolate takes calcium reserves from the body.