Raw cacao (pronounced ka-KOW and sometimes called cocoa) is chocolate in a nearly pure and natural form. Cacao is raw, unprocessed chocolate.
When the unroasted cacao beans are cold-pressed, the enzymes are not altered as they are in other types of chocolate. At the same time, the pressing removes the fat from the beans to create cacao butter. Cacao nibs have some great benefits. In fact, they have all the benefits of dark chocolate, but without the added sugar.
You may have heard how dark chocolate is good for you, however, most dark chocolate has been so processed, that the healthy benefits are flushed out of it. Cacao is a healthier option, containing four times the amount of antioxidants of dark chocolate.
Cacao nibs are made once the cacao beans have been harvested by being removed from their pods, fermented and dried. The cacao beans are then crushed, which form the cacao nibs. Some manufacturers sell their cacao nibs raw, while others roast them before packaging and selling them.
Cacao nibs are also used to make cacao paste, cacao butter, cacao powder and other chocolate products such as chocolate bars, chocolate sauces, and chocolate beverages.
Added to the superfood category, cacao beans have significant nutritional value. There are significant amounts of the minerals calcium, zinc, iron, sulfur, manganese, copper, and potassium, vitamin E, and B-vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B9. Cacao beans are also a great source of protein and fiber while providing the heart-healthy fat, oleic acid.
40 Times the Antioxidants of Blueberries
Raw organic cacao has over 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries. It has an amazing ORAC score of 98,000 per 100g, vs blueberries at a mere 2,400. ORAC scores measure the ability of antioxidants to absorb free radicals (that come from pollution and toxins in our environment), which cause cell and tissue damage and can lead to diseases such as cancer.
These antioxidants repair damaged cells, prevent the onset of disease, and stave off premature aging. When antioxidants enter your body, they scavenge roaming free radicals, which do damage to your cells and body.
Highest Plant-Based Source of Iron
Cacao is the highest plant-based source of iron in plant-based food – 7.3mg per 100g. This compares to beef and lamb at 2.5mg, and spinach at 3.6mg. Note the iron in cacao is non-heme (as is all plant-based iron), so to get the maximum benefits you’ll want to combine it with some vitamin C. – oranges, kiwifruit, superfoods like gubinge (a kind of plum) or camu camu (which have 40x more vitamin C than oranges).
Full of Magnesium for a Healthy Heart & Brain
Raw Organic Cacao is also one of the highest plant-based sources of magnesium. Magnesium is important for a healthy heart, and helps turn glucose into energy enabling your brain to work with clarity and focus. The magnesium can help heart-health by lowering blood pressure, improving the flexibility and strength of your blood vessels, removing plaque build up in the arteries, and decreasing LDL cholesterol.
Cacao beans contain compounds that help regulate blood pressure. In each bean, has theobromine and flavanols that encourage the health of your blood vessels strengthening and enhancing their ability to dilate. By improving the health of the blood vessels and increasing circulation, cacao beans help to lower blood pressure, and therefore reduce the probability that you will experience strokes, heart attacks, and heart disease.
More Calcium Than Cow’s Milk
Raw Organic Cacao has more calcium than cow’s milk at 160mg per 100g vs only 125mg per 100ml of milk.
A Natural Mood Elevator and Anti-Depressant
Cacao is a great source of four scientifically proven bliss chemicals – serotonin, tryptophan, tyrosine and phenylethylamine. These neurotransmitters are associated with the feelings of wellbeing, happiness, and can even alleviate depression. Cacao beans contain a molecule called anandamide, which facilitates the release of such feel good hormones as serotonin and dopamine. These hormones help alleviate feelings of depression while actively boosting your mood. Women with PMS have found that cacao beans help to stabilize their mood and hormones by restoring serotonin levels.
How to Buy
Normal cocoa powder and chocolate have been chemically processed and roasted, which destroys a large amount of the antioxidants and flavanols. A recent study suggested that between 60% and 90% of the original antioxidants in cacao are lost through common “Dutch processing”. Dutch processing was originally developed in the early 19th Century to reduce the bitterness, darken the colour, and create a more mellow flavour to chocolate, but unfortunately also eliminated a bunch of the goodness.
Non-organic cocoa (and non-organic chocolate) has also been treated heavily with toxic pesticides and fumigation chemicals, and may contain genetically modified (GMO) products.
Oxfam estimates that over 70% of the world’s cocoa is grown by indigenous communities who are paid such a low wage that poverty is widespread. In some instances, child slaves are used, forced to engage in dangerous work such as using machetes and applying toxic pesticides. Please buy fairly traded chocolate.
Cacao beans – These are the actual beans which are extracted from the pod. Cacao beans are in their original, whole and unprocessed form.
Cacao paste – Cacao paste is made by grinding the whole cacao beans into a liquid, and is also known as cacao liquor. This cacao liquid is then partially dried, which results in a paste.
Cacao butter – Cacao butter is the fat that is extracted from the cacao bean and is used often in cooking and baking.
Cacao powder – Cacao powder is what remains of the cacao paste after the fat has been extracted.
How to Store
When storing cacao nibs, make sure that they are in an airtight container, which allows them to stay as fresh as possible before being used, and you can even freeze them if you aren’t going to use them soon
Cacao nibs can last for several years if kept in the right condition and stored properly.
- The container with the cacao nibs should be kept in a dark, cool and dry location.
- Make sure to press out all of the air from the packaging before sealing and resealing it, or transfer the cacao nibs to a glass jar that seals tightly to maintain their freshness for an extended period.
If you see any signs of rot or mold, or if the cacao nibs have a strange aroma, you should discard them.
If you have bought a large batch of cacao nibs and do not plan to use them all in the near future, you can freeze the extra cacao nibs in order to make them last longer.
- Lay the cacao nibs flat on a baking sheet, spread out as much as possible, and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Once they have been in the freezer for 30 minutes and have hardened and separated, you can transfer them to a resealable freezer bag, or to an airtight freezer container.
- If you are freezing them in a freezer bag, try and push out as much air as possible, as the moisture in the air might ruin the quality of the cacao nibs.
How to Cook
Cacao nibs can be used in a variety of ways, and many people choose to toast or roast their cacao beans first. Raw cacao nibs do not melt. You can roast nibs to enhance the flavor.
They can be used in both sweet and savory dishes to add a bit of richness to the dish. People use cacao beans as an added ingredient in their morning oats for chocolate flavor without all the sugar. They can also be used in smoothies to give them more richness.
Cacao nibs also make a great addition when used for granola or homemade trail mix, and really help to fulfill the chocolate craving in the healthiest of ways.
To add texture to different dishes, cacao nibs can be used in muffins, in ice-cream or as a topping on a dessert.