Ingredient Intelligence

The Secret Step for Tastier Cacao Nibs

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

If you’re a fan of chocolate in every way, shape, and form, then perhaps you’ve given

cacao nibs

Essentially unprocessed chocolate, cacao or cocoa nibs are the part of the cocoa bean that are ground up and then sweetened and made into chocolate bars. On their own, they’re crunchy and have the flavor of unsweetened chocolate — extra-bitter and fruity. Since we’re used to eating sweetened chocolate — even the darkest dark chocolate has some sugar in there to balance it out — cacao nibs can come as a bit of a shock.

Write them off then? Oh, no. You see, there’s a way to make them taste pretty fabulous. So fabulous, in fact, that you may find yourself sprinkling them over practically everything that comes out of your kitchen, from ice cream to yogurt to even salad.

Toast Cacao Nibs for Better Flavor

The secret to tastier cacao nibs is a simple one: Before you use them, toast them! Just like raw nuts, raw cacao nibs lack a depth of flavor that can really only come from toasting.

Our Associate Food Editor, Megan, likes to toast them on the stove in a dry skillet over medium heat, keeping a close eye on the nibs until they have taken on a little color and they emit a warm, toasty aroma. Toast small batches at a time — just enough to use up within a day or two. If you’d like to make more, just stash them in an airtight container in the fridge to keep them fresh for about a week. You can also toast them in the oven — just be sure to check them frequently, as they can burn quickly. You’re left with cacao nibs that still have that dark, unsweetened chocolate taste, but have lost some of their bitterness and replaced it with one that’s a bit more welcoming: nutty, earthy, and even more crunchy.

Some manufacturers sell their cacao nibs already roasted or toasted, so be sure to buy ones that aren’t — toasting them yourself ensures the freshest, nuttiest flavor.

(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

How to Use Toasted Cacao Nibs

You can’t go wrong with sprinkling toasted cacao nibs over ice cream or mixing them into cookie dough, but using them for dessert is only just the beginning. For breakfast, try the nibs on top of your oatmeal, added to granola, sprinkled on yogurt, stirred into muffin batter, or blended into a smoothie to give it a little texture. Don’t forget about trying them in savory applications as well: Megan loves to add a handful to an avocado and grapefruit salad. They would also be great over a spinach and strawberry salad or sprinkled over a grain bowl for crunch. Basically anywhere you might use toasted nuts, you can try using toasted cacao nibs instead.

How do you like to enjoy cacao nibs?