The Mayans touted it as the “food of the gods,” which should be reason enough to dream about eating chocolate. But now we have piles of research papers that make it even more tempting to include a little more cacao in your life.
In recent years, a raft of scientific studies have shown that consuming cacao-containing products, including dark chocolate bars and cacao powder (sorry, milk and white chocolate don’t count!) can help lessen the risk for various forms of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and heart failure. Cacao consumption also appears to help with brain function by improving blood flow, and is even shown to effectively enhance skin health by reducing wrinkles and increasing elasticity. This same blood flow-boosting effect is also likely the reason cacao can help bring your blood pressure numbers down a notch. Yet, if you still needed another reason to embrace your inner Willy Wonka, researchers have also discovered that certain compounds found in cacao may help your body release more insulin and better respond to increased blood sugar, which can help in the battle against developing type 2 diabetes.
Why the wide range of body benefits? Cacao contains lofty amounts of epicatechin and other flavonoids—powerful antioxidants also found in red wine, tea and many fruits. These compounds can help prevent cell damage and inflammation in the body, while also improving blood flow for better heart and brain performance.
Of course, you need to eat the best types of cacao to reap the most rewards. Generally, the darker the chocolate—meaning, the higher the cacao content, the greater the antioxidant and nutrient content and the lower the amount of sugar. When it comes to chocolate bars, your best bet is to choose one with 70 percent cacao or higher, as bars with a lower percentages of cacao have more added sugar. Two top options—cacao powder and cacao nibs—are even lesser processed forms of cacao, and will give you off-the-chart levels of antioxidants.
While there’s not a universal agreement on when manufacturers will use the terms "cacao" and "cocoa" respectively, in general, the term “cacao” is often reserved for less-processed forms of the cacao bean, such as cacao nibs and natural or “raw” cacao powder—the latter of which has not been treated with alkali and will contain more antioxidants than Dutch-processed cocoa powder.
What are Cacao Nibs?
The various types of chocolate are made from fermented and dried cacao beans from the Theobroma cacao tree. Take these cacao beans, pummel them to bits and you have pleasantly bitter cacao nibs—chocolate that is about as close to its natural form as possible. Think of them as dark chocolate chips with more crunch and less sugar. On top of supplying a payload of body-benefiting antioxidants, a mere three-tablespoon serving of crunchy nibs provides an impressive nine grams of dietary fiber, making them an undeniably satiating treat. It’s worth noting that dietary surveys suggest most Americans are coming up well short of their daily fiber needs, so sneaking in a serving or two of cacao nibs is a great way to meet your goals. Cacao nibs are also a source of several essential minerals, including iron, magnesium, copper, and manganese to further up the health ante.
Of course, if you need just a hint of sweetness to offset the natural bitterness that comes with the cacao nib in its original form, you can always opt for Navitas Organics Cacao Sweet Nibs. These are small bits of unprocessed, organic cacao rolled in just the right amount of sugar to sweeten the slight, naturally bitter taste of dark cacao.
Additionally, both varieties make the perfect addition to both sweet and savory recipes, so to get you started on the path to incorporating cacao nibs into your everyday diet, here are some easy options.
- Sprinkle them on salads
- Toss them on a bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese for a little crunch
- Stir them into a bowl of simmering oatmeal
- Add them to your batter when making muffins, waffles or pancakes
- Blend them into your smoothies for an added nutritional boost
- Use them in homemade granola or trail mix recipes
- Swap them for chocolate chips in cookie or brownie recipes
- Sprinkle them over peanut butter toast
- Incorporate nibs into a rub for chicken, pork or steak
- Try them as a fanciful garnish for pureed squash or sweet potato soups
- Blend them with your coffee beans to give your morning cup of Joe a chocolaty essence
- Use them in homemade energy bar and energy ball recipes
- And, of course, there has never been an ice cream that can’t be improved with a little cacao nib love
Still searching for a little more inspo? Here's an extra sweet recipe you'll want to try ASAP!
Yogurt Bowl with Coffee Plum Nib Compote Recipe
1¼ cups brewed coffee
20 dried pitted plums (prunes)
2 Tbsp. honey
1 whole star anise
¼ tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. orange zest
¼ cup Navitas Organics Cacao Nibs
4 cups plain Greek yogurt or dairy-free yogurt
In a medium-sized saucepan, combine coffee, plums, honey, star anise, cinnamon, and orange zest.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, remove plums from the pan.
Simmer liquid, uncovered, over medium-high heat until reduced and syrupy, 3-4 minutes.
Combine plums, cacao nibs and syrup; discard star anise.
Place yogurt in serving bowls and top with coffee nib sauce.
Makes 4 servings
And there's plenty more where that came from! Click HERE to browse even more delicious cacao nib recipes to get your daily fix.