What Exactly Are Cocoa Nibs And What Can You Do With Them?

Cocoa nibs: fun to say and even more fun to eat. And perhaps the best part? They're not just delicious (they are an ancestor of chocolate, after all) — they're also nutritious. 

As Healthline explains, cocoa nibs are loaded with antioxidants — more so than any other food by weight — and offer a slew of health benefits, from helping reduce inflammation to protecting against heart disease. These tiny bits are small in size, but they pack a big punch when it comes to nutrition, flavor, and goodness.

You've probably seen them in health stores and noticed them being used in the occasional recipe, but you might not know what cocoa nibs actually are. Where do they come from? What's the difference between cocoa and cacao? How do you cook with them? And what do cocoa nibs taste like? (Hint: If you like dark chocolate, you'll most likely be a cocoa nib fan.)

How are they different from chocolate?

Cocoa (or cacao) nibs come from harvesting cocoa beans, which are technically seeds. HuffPost explains the whole process: Once harvested, cocoa pods — which grow on the cocoa plant called Theobroma cacao — are cracked open so their seeds can be gathered. Those seeds, about 30 to 50 per pod, are then fermented to add body and richness, dried to prevent rotting, and roasted to bring out the flavor. 

"It's during roasting that the beans are cracked, the hulls discarded and the 'meat of the cocoa' is crushed and taken aside to be made into chocolate," HuffPost explains. That crushed "meat of the cocoa" is exactly what cocoa nibs are.

Think of cocoa nibs as chocolate right before it's chocolate — the rich, bitter pieces of cacao that you have before any sugar is added. As for the taste, think of cocoa nibs as the more bitter cousin of your favorite dark chocolate bar — Wild Mountain Chocolate describes them as a "less processed version of chocolate."

How to eat cocoa nibs

While cocoa nibs taste different from chocolate, they have a wonderfully intense, chocolatey flavor that works well in both sweet and savory dishes. Keep in mind that they're very bitter; depending on what you use them in, you may want to balance them out with a bit of sweetness. 

Cocoa nibs work great as-is when added to recipes for homemade ice cream, baked goods, and overnight oats. Healthline suggests blending them into your morning smoothie, including them in protein energy balls, or even crusting meat with themIndi Chocolate suggests using them as a salad topper or adding them to freshly ground coffee. 

There are plenty of delicious recipes that make it easy to incorporate these magical little nibs into your everyday meals. You'll not only get to enjoy their unique and delicious flavor, but you'll also reap the many benefits of this nutrient-dense food.