Chocolate now falls into the category of “things that people can be snobs about” (joining including beer, wine and Terrence Malick films). While some might enjoy a fine aged 2010 Indonesian truffle-caviar infused truffle, I admit to “indulging” with a block of unsweetened baking chocolate or an unusually waxy Palmer chocolate peanut balls around Halloween and/or Easter. Different strokes for different folks, right?
On the heels of the recently vague news that “chocolate is healthy“, most likely more people have been justifying their chocoholism with a daily dose of Hershey’s or Nestle’s. No joke, as I was typing this, the radio announced another study regarding women eating chocolate and reducing stroke. But telling women to eat chocolate feels like telling them to read Twilight. Today we go to the source of everyone’s favorite addiction.
Cacao nibs are the little pieces of the crushed cocoa bean, to which cocoa butter, sugar and other things (nuts, fruit and the like) are added to make the final product. They’re about the size of an almond, but a little fatter. If you’re interested in learning more about the bean-to-bar process and you’re in the western Washington region, I would highly suggest visiting Theo Chocolate in the Fremont area of Seattle and taking their factory tour. They’re an organic, fair-trade chocolate maker that do all their roasting in-house. It’s $6.00, but you get more chocolate samples than a human should eat at a time including dark chocolate, milk chocolate, spicy chocolate and even handmade truffles (mine had an infusion of jasmine pearl tea).
Anywho, one of the samples on the tour was a handful of cacao nibs right from the roasting room. After enjoying them on the tour, I was excited to pick up a bag of Scharffen Berger nibs at Grocery Outlet. Scharffen Berger (I’ll occasionally refer to it as SB to rest my fingers) is based in Berkeley, but purchased by Hershey’s in 2005. While I’m pretty indifferent to Hershey’s own milk chocolate bar, I’m a fan of SB’s dark chocolate, which we occasionally see at Grocery Outlet in either bar or baking bit form.
If you’re wondering the difference between cocoa and cacao, long story short: cocoa = powder or butter, cacao = tree, pod or bean (or something entirely different if you watch Portlandia – link is NOT work safe/for the kiddies).
Now if you like chocolate, I’ll have to warn you that cacao nibs are a very different animal. Instead of the sweet, creamy melt-in-your-mouth square, the nibs are more akin to a gravel-like potting soil, in both texture and color. They’re a bit slick and shiny from all the delicious saturated fats in the cocoa bean.
I would describe the nibs as earthy, somewhat bitter and a fermented taste that reminds me slightly of red wine. They’re bit of an acquired taste and something you might have to adjust to. Over the past couple years, I’ve trained myself from eating milk chocolate to easing into 85%-100% cocoa content bars. Then again, I’ve been told I’m a chocolate Jedi.
If the non-sweetened nibs are not your cup of tea (or cocoa), I suggest trying Scharffen Berger’s Milk Chocolate or Dark Chocolate nibby bars or even Chocolate Coated Cacao Nibs that include sweetened chocolate to take some of the edge off. You can also use them to add crunch to banana bread or mix them into a homemade granola. For those who want a more savory nibby alternative, Scharffen Berger has an alluring “Cacao Nib Rub on Tri Tip Roast” with brown sugar and red pepper flakes. What’s a more perfect combination that chocolate and steak (maybe chocolate and bacon)?