Cacao nibs are chock-full of nutrients

Special to Washington PostFebruary 3, 2014 


Cacao beans can be ground into nibs, a healthful chocolate alternative.


  • Cacao facts for kids

    Your kids might enjoy knowing a few fun facts about the chocolate or cacao bean:

    • The Mayans and Aztecs used cacao beans as money.

    • After Don Hern-Cort-brought the cacao bean to Europe, the Europeans added sugar to make the chocolate we know.

    • Unlike many plants, cacao has no growing season. The beans grow all year long in Central and South America. That means no shortage of chocolate!

    • Cacao flowers are pollinated by insects called midges.

    • You can buy a cacao tree and grow it in your house.

  • What cacao does for you

    According to “Superfoods,” raw cacao beans are:

    • Higher in antioxidants than blueberries, pomegranates, goji berries, acai berries and red wine. Antioxidants help protect us from the free radicals in our environment that cause cellular damage and age-related health problems.

    • A formidable source of magnesium. Magnesium is needed for a healthy heart and brain and for healthy muscles, bones and blood. Up to half of Americans are deficient in magnesium.

    • A solid source of iron, which is essential for healthy blood.

    • High in Vitamin C.

    • Mood-boosting. The amino acid tryptophan found in the beans supports the production of serotonin, contributing to positive moods.

For those of you who do not yet have cacao nibs in your pantry, here is the quick sell: Nibs are essentially chopped cacao beans.

Cacao (“kuh-KOW”) beans are the main ingredient in chocolate, so they have that delicious chocolate flavor, but also are a powerhouse of nutrition, as described by David Wolfe in his book “Superfoods.”

Cacao nibs and powder (as opposed to the cocoa powder you might already have at home) use the name “cacao” to designate the raw, unprocessed version of the bean. One nutritional bonus is that cacao beans have a knack for boosting moods, but without the unhealthful added sugar.

Crunchy and nutty

Cacao nibs, which can be found at Whole Foods, in the natural-foods section of some mainstream grocery stores and at, are not as creamy as milk chocolate or sweet like sweetened chocolate. They are crunchier than chocolate chips, almost like a nut, yet they still impart that flavor we all hunger for.

And they need no recipe. Simply substitute them for chocolate chips in cookies, brownies and chocolate chip waffles; include them in smoothies and homemade granola; sprinkle them on oatmeal or ice cream, grind them and add them to coffee; use them in a chicken mole recipe; or eat them plain as a snack. Life with cacao nibs suddenly becomes a box of chocolates, except in this case, you know all the goodness you are getting.

Tasty treats for kids

I’ve heard that success is all in a name, so although our “chocolate milkshake” creation is more of a smoothie (it doesn’t include ice cream, sugar or any of the items found in a traditional shake, and it is crammed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants), more of my children’s friends will venture a sip when it has “chocolate” as a first name and “milkshake” as a last.

This is true of our “chocolate chip” pancakes, banana “chocolate chip” muffins and “chocolate chip” granola bars, all of which have loads of antioxidants and are free of processed chocolate, yet deliver that heavenly chocolate taste. All thanks to that secret ingredient: raw cacao nibs.

Chocolate Milkshake Smoothie

This one’s deceptively healthful and protein-rich. The coconut oil has lauric acid, which is good for children’s growing brains. The cacao nibs are abundant with antioxidants. From Casey Seidenberg and Katherine Sumner of Nourish Schools LLC.

YIELD: 2 servings.


1 banana

1/ 2 cup raw cashews or raw sunflower seeds

2 to 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup cacao nibs

1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk

1 tablespoon coconut oil

10 ice cubes

COMBINE the banana, cashews or sunflower seeds, cocoa powder (to taste), cacao nibs, almond milk, coconut oil and ice cubes in a blender. Puree until smooth.

DIVIDE between glasses; serve immediately.

VARIATION: Optional items that can be added include flax seed oil (for omega 3 essential fatty acids); a handful of dark, leafy greens (for calcium, vitamins and fiber); green food powder (such has powdered spinach, for calcium and vitamins); raw apple cider (for blood alkalinity).

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