Cacao powder and cacao nibs both originate from the cacao plant, whose Latin name is Theobroma cacao, meaning “food of the gods.” This ancient plant has been consumed for centuries in the form of chocolate, as well as cacao powder and nibs.
But what exactly is the difference between cacao powder and cacao nibs? And how do their nutritional profiles and uses compare?
Read on to learn everything you need to know about these two superfoods, from how they’re made to how to use them.
How Cacao Powder and Cacao Nibs Are Made
To understand the key differences between cacao powder and nibs, it helps to first look at how they are produced from the raw cacao bean.
Cacao Powder Production
Cacao powder starts with the beans inside the fruit of the cacao tree. The beans are first fermented and dried before the outer shell is removed.
Next, the inner portion, or the cacao nib, is ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. This liquor consists of both cocoa solids and cocoa butter (the natural fat).
To produce cacao powder, the liquor is pressed to remove most of the cocoa butter, leaving behind a dry cake that is then pulverized into a fine powder.
This results in an unsweetened cacao powder that possesses a strong chocolate flavor. Most cacao powders undergo minimal processing to retain nutrients.
Key Takeaway: Cacao powder is made by pressing cacao liquor to remove the fat, then grinding the remaining solids into a fine powder.
Cacao Nibs Production
Cacao nibs come from the same original cacao beans. However, they undergo less processing compared to cacao powder.
Once the beans are harvested, fermented, and dried, the outer shell is removed. The inner portion that is revealed is called the “nib” and is broken into smaller crumbles.
The nibs are then packaged and sold as-is, with no further grinding or processing.
This means that cacao nibs contain the full-fat content of the cacao bean, giving them a rich, chocolatey flavor.
Key Takeaway: Cacao nibs are simply the crunchy inner portion of the cacao bean that has been broken into smaller pieces.
So in summary:
- Cacao powder is made by pressing and grinding nibs into a fine powder.
- Cacao nibs are broken nib pieces that have not been ground down.
Nutrition Profile and Health Benefits
Both cacao powder and nibs are packed with nutrients and compounds linked to various health benefits. Here’s how their nutrition profiles compare:
Cacao Powder Nutrition
A 1-ounce (28g) serving of cacao powder contains:
- 64 calories
- 3.5g fat (mostly from cocoa butter)
- 16g carbs
- 5g protein
- 9g fiber
- 22% DV iron
- 12% DV magnesium
Cacao is one of the best sources of antioxidants like flavonoids, catechins, and proanthocyanidins. These combat free radicals and reduce inflammation.
The abundant minerals in cacao powder, especially iron and magnesium, support blood flow, energy levels, bone health, and brain function.
The natural stimulants theobromine and a small amount of caffeine provide a mood and energy boost.
Cacao Nibs Nutrition
A 1-ounce (28g) serving of cacao nibs contains:
- 160 calories
- 11g fat
- 6g carbs
- 9g protein
- 3g fiber
- 4% DV iron
- 16% DV magnesium
With more fat and calories than powder, cacao nibs make an energizing snack. They provide the same antioxidants, minerals, and stimulants as cacao powder.
The higher fiber and fat content in cacao nibs results in slower nutrient absorption and prolonged energy.
Key Takeaway: Both provide antioxidants, fiber, stimulants, and minerals like iron and magnesium. But cacao nibs contain more fat and calories than powder.
Potential Health Benefits
Research suggests that consuming cacao powder and nibs may:
- Protect the heart by improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure
- Reduce inflammation thanks to antioxidant compounds
- Enhance brain function by stimulating blood flow and neurotransmitters
- Improve mood by raising serotonin and endorphin levels
- Increase energy due to natural caffeine and theobromine
- Control blood sugar by slowing digestion and regulating insulin
- Promote skin health by increasing circulation and hydration
By choosing minimally processed cacao over cocoa powder or chocolate, you get the most antioxidants and nutrients.
Taste and Uses
Cacao powder and nibs have some major differences when it comes to taste, texture, and how they can be used:
- Fine, silky texture
- Bittersweet, cocoa taste
- Mixes smoothly into liquids
- Use in smoothies, desserts, sauces, drinks
- Crunchy, coarse texture
- Intense chocolate flavour
- Adds texture when baked or sprinkled
- Use in cookies, bars, trail mixes, cereals
Cacao powder works well in recipes that need to incorporate the powder smoothly, like beverages, smoothie bowls, and frostings.
Cacao nibs shine in applications where you want chocolatey crunch and richness, like granola, energy balls, or brownies.
When using cacao nibs in baked goods, add them at the end of mixing. Too much mixing can damage their delicate texture.
Cacao Powder vs. Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder is another common cocoa product used in baking and desserts. It differs from cacao powder in a few key ways:
- Cacao powder: Made from raw, unroasted cacao beans
- Cocoa powder: Made from roasted cacao beans
- Cacao powder: Intense chocolate flavor
- Cocoa powder: Milder, more mellow chocolate taste
- Cacao powder: Light brown
- Cocoa powder: Dark brown
- Cacao powder: Higher antioxidant content
- Cocoa powder: Lower antioxidant content
So while both can add chocolate flavor to foods, cacao powder is less processed and more nutritious than standard cocoa powder.
Buying and Storing Cacao Powder and Nibs
When buying cacao powder and nibs, keep these tips in mind:
- Look for “raw” or “natural” on the label as this indicates less processing and more nutrition.
- Choose organic to avoid pesticides.
- Read the ingredients to ensure there are no unnecessary additives.
- Store in a cool, dry place away from light to maximize freshness.
- Cacao nibs may need refrigeration after opening to prevent oxidation.
- Buy small packs if you won’t use them quickly to ensure freshness.
Cacao Powder and Nibs Recipes
Cacao Powder Recipes
- Cacao smoothies
- Cacao energy balls
- Black bean brownies
- Cacao muffins
- Homemade hot chocolate
Cacao Nibs Recipes
- Trail mixes with nuts
- Chocolate chip cookie dough
- Rocky Road Energy bars
- Cherry cacao overnight oats
- Cacao nib broccoli salad
Don’t be afraid to get creative and add cacao to both sweet and savory dishes!
Is cacao good for you?
Yes, cacao contains antioxidants, fiber, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds linked to improved heart and brain health. Moderate intake of cacao can be part of a nutritious diet.
Are cacao nibs better than cacao powder?
It depends on your needs. Both provide a concentrated source of nutrients. Nibs contain more fat and calories. Powder offers more versatility in recipes. Choose the form that best fits your nutritional and culinary needs.
What's the difference between cacao and cocoa?
Cacao refers to less processed powder and products made from raw, unroasted cacao beans. Cocoa is more processed from roasted cacao beans and has a slightly different flavor and nutritional profile.
Can cacao powder be substituted for cocoa powder?
Yes, you can replace cocoa powder with cacao powder in recipes. But keep in mind cacao powder has a stronger chocolate taste. You may want to use less cacao powder than a recipe calls for cocoa powder.
Do cacao nibs go bad?
Properly stored in a cool dark place, cacao nibs can last up to 2 years. But for the best flavor and freshness, try to use them within 3-6 months of opening. Keeping them refrigerated can further extend their shelf life.
Cacao powder and cacao nibs give you two ways to add the nutrition and delicious taste of chocolate into your diet.
Both provide essential antioxidants, fiber, magnesium, iron, and more. Their main differences come down to texture and fat content.
Cacao powder offers a fine, silky addition to smoothies, drinks, and baking. Cacao nibs provide a crunchy, chocolate chip-like texture for snacks and desserts.
No matter which form you choose, incorporating cacao into your meals and snacks can level up both the nutrition and flavor. Just be sure to look for raw, organic cacao powder or nibs.
Now that you know the details of cacao powder vs. cacao nibs, get creative with adding these superfoods into your kitchen repertoire!