When I am running my chocolate workshops I always have some cocoa beans, nibs and cocoa butter that I show my students they are often amazed when I tell them top chefs have been using cacao nibs in their recipes for some time and now it’s time for them to get working in your own dishes with them.
Fist of all cocoa nibs aren’t sweet at all, so they work really well as a contrasting texture in all kinds of sweets — from smoothies, brownies to breakfast recipes and of course desserts
Most health food shops and some large retailers now sell cocoa nibs on the home baking aisle (some for as much as £28 per kg) they are now finding their way into salads, baked goods, desserts, folded into ice cream and decorating pralines.
Get to know your nibs better
Cocoa beans are the base ingredient used for chocolate making. cocoa nibs are the broken-up bits of the bean with the shells removed. or chocolate that hasn't been roast, ground pressed and mixed with sugar yet. I am finding they are being used as an ingredient in their own right.
The nibs have pure bitter cacao flavours, meaning that they work in both sweet and savoury dishes. It's the nibs' texture which is particularly distinctive though they have a lot of bite. The texture is crunchy like a coffee bean, a bit like sugar that’s been crystallised, more like a Brazil nut than an almond with some deep rich, pleasant bitter chocolate flavours, along with some mouth-cooling properties from the cocoa butter.
I often describe cocoa as a bouquet garni it has so many aromas to add to dishes. If you eat them neat they are packed full of flavour, nutrients, antioxidants and chemicals that have health giving benefits whilst making us feel good. They smell a bit like chocolate, but don’t quite taste exactly like it.
How to cook with cocoa nibs
We can buy cocoa nibs both roasted or raw. The roasted nibs have more intense flavours. Follow the same process as you would for roasting nuts if you need to roast raw nibs. — spread the nibs on a baking sheet, and place them in the oven at 180°C for 5-10 minutes, keeping a keen eye on them, and constantly sniffing the air to ensure that the nibs don't burn and blacken.
Nibs are most often taken straight from the packet, and sprinkled over things as a textured garnish. To change the size of the shards, use a good knife to chop them the same way you would chop nuts. The nibs can also be ground in a pestle and mortar or ground into a powder in a coffee grinder (the coffee remnants will enhance the flavour!)
Another interesting application is infusing the cacao nibs in a milk, cream or custard. It means that you introduce chocolate flavours to a dish without any brown chocolate colour. Add approximately two heaped tablespoons of nibs to 500ml of liquid (dependent on how strongly-flavoured the liquid should be). Gently heat and then strain.
I have used them blitzed in a power drink or added to breakfast cereals, porridge or muesli, it common to use them to finish Danish pastries.
Cocoa nibs have a savoury side,
They can be used to add a crust to a steak, duck breast, or salmon, they can be sprinkled onto salads, pasta and pizzas.
Why not wizz some nibs with pine nuts, chili and basil and mint to make a pesto, Or make cocoa hummus, for extra crunch and a rich flavour, mix a tablespoon of cacao nibs into a carrot salad (carrot and cacao nibs are a great pairing, especially with a lime vinaigrette dressing) Sprinkle nibs over a coconut curry that has sweet vegetables such as pumpkin or sweet potato and carrots in it.
First there are the obvious things: like using them as sprinkles on cupcakes or ice cream, throwing them onto chocolate bark instead of nuts. if you’re making choc chip cookies, replace some of the chocolate chips for cacao nibs
or just simply caramelise them in sugar you can also candy them and use them in your baked goods en-robed (panned) in chocolate for a healthy treat. (I call these chocolate caviar). And we all know that the less processed the cocoa is, the more antioxidants it keeps so the healthier it is which can only be a good thing.