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Raw Cacao Nibs - Nature's Raw Chocolate

Updated on September 7, 2009

Raw cacao nibs are just one example of the raw food ingredients that are becoming increasingly popular among a wide variety of people. Raw foods are associated with a number of health benefits, and many people claim that eating a diet that is high in raw foods helps them to stay healthy and to look and feel great too. It's not long ago that eating raw was very much a fringe interest, but today it's much more mainstream, and for those who like to prepare gourmet dishes, there are plenty of raw recipes that are just as impressive as any cooked dish! Along with this increase of interest in raw recipes has come the greater availability of high quality raw ingredients. Raw cacao is one of these, and many people who eat raw enjoy them as an alternative to cooked chocolate. This article takes a look at what's great about raw cacao nibs, and what to look for when buying.

What Are Raw Cacao Nibs?

Cacao is another name for the cocoa plant, from which chocolate is made. The scientific name for the cocoa plant is Theobroma cacao – theobroma means 'food of the gods', which many chocolate lovers would agree with! It grows in tropical climates, and is native to the Americas, where it was held in such esteem by native populations, that cacao beans were used as currency in previous centuries! Chocolate (both raw and cooked) comes from the fruit of the tree, the cacao pod. This is a large, ovoid shape, and contains a number of seeds, also known as cocoa beans. These seeds are fat-rich, and are the source of cocoa butter and cocoa powder – as well as raw cacao nibs. The nibs are small pieces of the cocoa beans that have been hulled, roasted and prepared for the chocolate making process. In the case of raw nibs however, they haven't been roasted, but (in general) fermented instead, so the nutrients haven't been affected by the cooking process. The nibs may be eaten as they are (they're kind of hard, crunchy and rather bitter to the taste), or used in the preparation of chocolate and other recipes.

The Benefits Of Uncooked Cacao

Dark chocolate has recently acquired something of a reputation as a superfood, thanks to the powerful anti-oxidants it contains. Raw cacao nibs also contain these nutrients, and some people claim that the fact that it is uncooked gives makes it more beneficial for health, since fewer of the nutrients have been destroyed by heat processing, and it has more 'life energy'. Whether or not you buy into the whole raw food lifestyle, raw cacao, like other raw plant foods, can be an excellent addition to your diet. They are high in minerals such as magnesium, iron, chromium and sulphur, as well as flavinoids such as epicachetin, which can be beneficial for cardiac health. It also contains other antioxidants such as polyphenols and vitamin C. As well as its potential benefits for the heart and other organs, raw chocolate may also help to improve mental performance. It also contains MAO inhibitors, which can have an appetite-suppressing effect – great if you're trying to lose weight! Like conventional chocolate, raw chocolate can also give a (temporary) emotional boost, thanks to the presence of phenylethylamine and theobromine.

Are Cacao Nibs Really Healthy?

Some raw food purists argue that raw cacao nibs are not part of a 'natural' diet, citing the potentially addictive effects of theobromine and the other mood-enhancing chemicals it contains. It contains caffeine and may also cause over-stimulation in some people, especially if eaten in large quantities. It is best to observe your body's own reactions, stopping if you experience any adverse effects, and to eat cacao in moderation, as a treat not a staple, and remain aware that it can become habit-forming and may cause adverse effects in some people.

Like all forms of chocolate, raw cacao should never be give to animals such as cats and dogs, as it is toxic and potentially fatal to them.

Using Raw Chocolate

Many people like to eat raw cacao nibs as they are – they make a nice snack, and it only takes a few to satisfy a chocolate craving. You can also mix them with a chopped banana or other fruit for a sweeter taste, mix with cereal, mix them up with dried fruit and nuts to make your own energy bars, add them to biscuits, cakes and pies, blend them into a smoothie, or make up your own delicious raw cacao recipes.

Buying Raw Cacao Nibs

When buying raw cocoa products, ensure that they really are raw – it may sound obvious, but sometimes foods that are labelled as 'raw' have undergone significant heat treatment! It's normally best to purchase a small quantity to start with, until you're sure you're happy with the quality. Organic cacao nibs are also a better choice than non-organic, since they're free of potentially harmful pesticides and have generally been produced in a more sustainable way. You may also come across different varieties of cacao nibs – Criollo beans, which make up about 10% of the world's cocoa bean production, are considered to be the highest quality variety in the world, and have a less bitter taste than the more common (and less expensive) Forastero beans. The third variety, Trinitario, is a hybrid of the two, but not very common. Most cocoa nibs will be of the Forastero variety, unless otherwise specified. You should also only buy top quality raw nibs that are certified as safe for human consumption – since they're not cooked, they can potentially harbour harmful bacteria, so buy from a supplier that tests for these and certifies that their cacao nibs are microbe-free.

Where To Find Raw Chocolate Nibs & Other Products

If you live in an area with good health food stores, gourmet food shops and the like, you may be able to buy raw cacao nibs and other products locally. However, for most people, the best place to find them in online – there are many specialist sites that cater to raw foodists and other people interested in quality natural ingredients, and such is the popularity of raw chocolate products and other raw foods these days that you can even find them on such mainstream sites as Amazon and eBay – often for great prices too.

If you like cacao nibs, you might enjoy other raw chocolate products too, such as whole raw cocoa beans, raw chocolate bars, cocoa butter and cocoa powder. These provide a great way to get a chocolate fix without the additional sugar and possibly other ingredients that you'll find in even great quality conventional chocolate products.

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