The culinary use of cacao dates back to about 1,000 BC in Mayan cultures, who used roasted cacao paste made from cacao nibs to make drinks, sauces and cocoa-containing foods. Cacao beans (cocoa beans) are not actually beans, they are seeds that grow within cacao pods, which are the colorful fruits of the tropical cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). Cacao nibs are made by removing the shells and breaking the larger cacao beans (seeds) into smaller pieces. Cacao nibs can be found in both raw and roasted varieties, each having their own benefits and drawbacks. Cacao nibs are a delicious source of minerals and antioxidants, and when eaten in moderation, are allowed on the Paleo diet.
Nutritional Value of Cacao Nibs
The nutritional information given here is for Navitas Naturals Cacao Nibs. These certified organic cacao nibs are kosher, vegan, raw, and free of gluten, sugars, fillers, and GMOs. In fact, their only ingredient is organic cacao (Theobroma cacao).
Serving size: 1 ounce
- Calories: 130
- Total Fat: 12 g
- Saturated Fat: 7 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
- Sodium: 0mg
- Total carbohydrate: 10 g
- Dietary Fiber: 9 g
- Sugars: 0 g
- Protein: 4 g
- Vitamin A: 0%
- Vitamin C: 0%
- Calcium: 2%
- Iron: 6%
Cacao nibs contain an abundance of healthful components, particularly the raw variety. Raw cacao is thought to contain the highest concentration of flavanoid antioxidants of any food in the world! Cacao beans (seeds) are rich in several minerals, especially iron and magnesium. Cacao nibs contain a fair amount of dietary fiber (insoluble and soluble), protein, and fat. Compared to cacao powder, cacao nibs contain a higher proportion of total and saturated fat, as they are closer to the natural form of the cacao bean. Cacao also contains some unique and potent mood-enhancing chemicals such as theobromine, anandamine, and phenylethylamine.
Where to Buy Cacao Nibs
Cacao nibs are available in many grocery stores, health food stores, and online. If you’re in the market for a truly raw cacao nib, it’s best to inquire directly with the manufacturer of any products you are considering to ensure their cacao beans were exposed to only low temperatures (that meet your personal standards). Store your cacao nibs in an air-tight package, away from heat, light, and moisture. Enjoy your cacao nibs by the expiration date on the package.
Should I Eat Cacao Nibs? Are Cacao Nibs Paleo?
Cacao IS Paleo! Both roasted and raw cacao nibs are allowed on the Paleo diet. We recommend that you consume cacao nibs in moderation (meaning don’t eat them every day, and rotate them in and out of your diet). Make sure to read the ingredients on products you purchase, as some manufacturers add additional ingredients and sweeteners to their cacao nibs (especially the roasted varieties). The only ingredient in your cacao nibs should be cacao beans (Theobroma cacao).
After cacao beans are harvested, they undergo a natural fermentation process which can allow pathogenic (disease-causing) microorganisms (i.e. bacteria, fungus, etc.) to contaminate the cacao beans. These microorganisms can make their way into ‘raw’ cacao products which have not been processed under high heat conditions. While some nutrients and antioxidants are destroyed in the roasting of raw cacao, the high temperatures also kill pathogenic critters that may have contaminated the cacao beans during the fermentation process. Thus if your immune system is compromised, or you have other health issues of concern, you may want to steer clear of raw cacao, and stick with a cacao product or cocoa that has been roasted. Navitas Naturals claim on their website that in making their raw cacao products they use the “lowest temperature processing methods available in an effort to preserve the maximum nutritional density” as well as testing for “micro-contaminants to ensure the cleanest and safest products.”
Some people also express concern about cadmium (a toxic heavy metal) that can be transferred into the cacao plant from its growing soil. The theobromine naturally contained in cacao is a nervous system stimulant and vasodilator that some people may react to as they would caffeine. Cacao also contains oxalic acid, a compound that inhibits calcium absorption. These drawbacks should not be an issue for most people, when cacao is used in moderation.
How to Make And Eat Cacao Nibs
If you can get your hands on some whole, raw (or roasted) cacao beans, you can make your own cacao nibs! Basically, you just pulverize the cacao bean (with a food processor, hammer, or the like) into desirably sized pieces. (Sounds pretty Paleo to me!) Or if you’re more of a modern caveperson…you can just score some from the store. So once you’ve gathered yourself some cacao nibs, what in the heck do you do with them? Cacao nibs have been called “natures chocolate chips” and can be used in any recipe as a chocolate chip replacement. Here are some other ideas of how to incorporate Paleo-friendly cacao nibs into your meals and snacks:
- Use them in baked goods or raw treats
- Mix them into trail mix or granola
- Add them to homemade granola bars or nut bars
- Add to desserts
- Add to smoothies or shakes
- Pulverize them (a coffee grinder works well for this) to make cacao powder
- Mix into marinades and sauces
- Use as a meat rub
- A crunchy addition to salads
- Cacao nib pork chops
- Snack them right from the bag!