The Curious Case of The Crunchy Cacao Nib

Cocoa nibs final – Keylink WP

The Curious Case of The Crunchy Cacao Nib

Cacao nibs are a wonderfuly versatile ingredient and even if you’re not familiar with them, there’s a strong chance you’ve seen a bag of them in a health food shop or even in the ingredients section of your local supermarket!

by Joe Baker

25 April 2023


After fermentation, cacao beans are dried, cleaned and roasted and the shell of the cacao bean is removed (known as ‘winnowing’) to produce cacao nibs. These nibs are then ground down and pressed to make cocoa mass, pure chocolate in a rough form and cocoa butter.  

This versatile ingredient has many uses beyond your morning cereal or smoothie and can provide a real kick to your sweet creations. 

We’ve also got some fantastic tips on how to get the best out of this ingredient! 


How to utilise a bitter flavour profile

If you’ve ever eaten cacao nibs, you’ll know they are an extremely bitter ingredient, as they are simply crushed cacao beans. However, this shouldn’t deter anyone from using this vibrant product in their cakes, bars, drinks or anything else! 

When working with bitter products the following should be considered:

Sweetness to balance the bitterness – Cacao nibs are extremely bitter so they need sweetness to balance this. If you were to pair an equally bitter product with nibs, it would likely mean your final creation would be too astringent to eat. Ideally a sweeter recipe, such as a cacao nib coated truffle with white chocolate ganache, would be an excellent way to balance the flavours. 

Complementary flavour profiles – When working with a product that has high ratings of a particular flavour profile (bitter, sweet, salty, sour and savoury) you can either balance this with the opposite flavour (sweet to balance bitter) or there are complementary flavours that can enhance a flavour profile if required (salty to enhance savoury). In this case, a floral note or tropical or stone fruit would pair beautifully whilst allowing the natural cocoa flavour to still shine through. 

Textures – The texture of a cacao nib is rather unusual in that it has a smooth exterior but provides a hearty ‘crunch’ when eaten. This makes it an ideal topping (we’ll come to that later) as they have visual appeal as well as a crunchy texture. 

With all this in mind, nibs are a versatile ingredient that can be used in cakes, muffins, cereal bars or just as a final topping on some whipped cream. However, a factor in this is quantity. It’s very easy to go overboard with the nibs a they have such a striking visual look on a plate, but adding too much can detract from the texture of your creation as a whole. Of course, they can always be chopped down with a sharp chefs knife for extra fine measurements and control. 

Callebaut Cocoa Nibs

Luker Roasted Cocoa Nibs

Our recommendations

For fantastic consistency and a burst of cacao flavour we’ve put our favourite options here…

Callebaut Cocoa Nibs – with a well-rounded flavour profile these nibs have an intense toasted cocoa taste and are an ideal multi-application product. 

Luker Roasted Cocoa Nibs – Made from the top 8% of the worlds cocoa beans (known as the fino de aroma cocoa beans), these nibs provide a real ‘punch’ of cocoa whilst retaining a smooth flavour profile.


A few parting ideas..

If the idea of working with cacao nibs still has you in bits, fear not, we’ve got some parting ideas below. 

Chocolate drinks – Top off a hot chocolate or Frappuccino with some whipped cream and a generous helping of nibs. We recommend a ruby hot chocolate made with Van Houten ruby chocolate powder. 

Cereal bars – Elevate your breakfast by creating cereal bars. Oats, honey, cacao nibs and freeze dried fruit in a handy bar make for a wonderful start to the day. 

Topping ideas – If nothing else, cacao nibs are an excellent addition to your cupboard products and make for a quick and easy topping solution. Cakes, whipped cream, truffle rolling, even your morning porridge! Or, just grab a handful and chomp away for a superb snack.

Joe is a marketing executive, maker of baked goods and a Teesside accent so thick you could cut through it. 

His favourite chocolate is Luker Nevado