|The cacao bean is the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of Theobroma cacao. Cacao beans are the base of all chocolate. Cacao Nibs are the original unsweetened chocolate chip, made from crushed cacao beans, these raw nibs are perfect for those craving a unique chocolate experience. Dark chocolate lovers will quickly begin to covet these high quality nibs, they’re crunchy, a bit bittersweet and are more intense than the chocolate made from them. Cacao nibs are loaded with healthy antioxidants, nutrients and potent natural mood enhancers.
Good For You Too
Cacao and cannabis (yes marijuana) are the only two plants known to contain cannabinoids, chemicals that unlock specific receptors in the brain. This results in the feeling of being high or elated. Cacao contains anandamide inhibitors, the body will often release anandamide to cope with the pain of intense exercise (this is frequently called runners high). Cacao also contains high levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan. Getting tryptophan into your system from food produces serotonin which is our "defense shield" against stress. Cacao has been tested to have the highest level of antioxidant flavonoids in any food – more than blueberries, black tea, green tea and red wine. So cacao helps you feel good while combating stress - oh and it tastes great.
Native to the Americas the cacao tree is most likely native to the foothills of the Andes in South America’s Amazon and Orinoco basins (today this region is known as Colombia and Venezuela). Pottery excavated from an archaeological dig in Honduras has been chemically tested and shows that this earliest evidence of cacao being consumed was between 1400 and 1500 BC. These findings show that long before the cacao bean became popular it was used in creating a fermented beverage. The cacao bean eventually became a commonly used currency throughout Mesoamerica (this area extends approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica) before the Spanish conquest.
Cultivating & Processing
Cacao trees are only found in hot, rainy tropical areas within 20° of latitude of the equator. Ripe cacao pods are carefully chosen by their color and are harvested from the trunk and branches of the cacao tree with a curved knife tied to the end of a long pole. It’s estimated one person can harvest up to 650 cacao pods per day.
The cacao pod (the fruit) has a rough and leathery rind which is a little over 1” thick. The pod is filled with a sweet, gummy pulp (known as 'baba de cacao' in South America) which contains 20 to 50 cacao beans (or seeds) that are soft and their color is white to pale lavender.
The harvested pods are typically split open with a machete. The beans and pulp are removed and then placed on grates for several days to begin the drying process. Similar to vanilla beans, during the drying process the seeds undergo "sweating". As the cacao pulp begins to ferment it liquefies and the pulp slowly slips away, leaving behind the cacao beans. Sweating is critical because if the sweating process is not allowed to run its course the beans will not maintain their strong bitter taste and will instead develop a flavor similar to raw potatoes. Harvesting cacao is a fairly laborious process, the drying and sweating process takes 7-10 days and you need almost 400 dried beans to make one pound of cacao nibs.
While cacao is becoming more and more popular, many people don’t know exactly what they are and most aren’t quite sure if there is a difference between cacao and cocoa?
Once cacao beans are harvested the beans are cleaned and then air dried. They then move to a winnower machine that partially crushes the beans and removes the thin outer shell. At this stage of the process this product is known as cacao nibs. This is where cacao nibs are pulled, packaged and sent to our supplier.
Other nibs continue to additional stages where they are first roasted and then further processed to become a high grade cocoa powder. It is the roasting and processing that changes cacao to cocoa. Once roasted and processed the beans lose many of their nutritional benefits. Most cocoa powders have additives like cocoa butter or sweeteners added. There are two types of cocoa powder – natural and Dutch-process. Dutch process is very common and this type of cocoa powder is made from beans that have been washed with a potassium carbonate solution which alkalizes the pH and neutralizes the acidity. You’ll recognize Dutch-process cocoa powder from its dark brown color.
Flavor and Use
The texture of cacao nibs is unique—tender yet crunchy and you’ll also notice a subtle mouth-cooling finish.
Cacao Nibs are a wonderful taste sensation and can be eaten by themselves or used in a more traditional manner such as added to cakes, cookies, ice cream, pie toppings or in quick bread. For a surprising savory flavor we’ve also found these to be marvelous additions to chili, moles and sauces. We even use them in smoothies or to top off our morning oatmeal and in our salads.
We also carry a top grade cacao powder which is cacao nibs crushed into a fine powder (not to be confused with processed cocoa powder).
If you're searching for other super foods you might want to check out our Pomegranate Seeds, Chia Seeds and Flax Seeds.
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