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12+ ways to use cocoa nibs in the kitchen

A few days ago, as I was nibbling on some chocolate covered roasted cocoa beans, I realised that this is one of my favourite snacks. The wonderful roasted cocoa aroma, the crunchiness and the fresh, unadulterated cocoa flavour are so addictive! Good news: eating a handful of cocoa beans is healthy (compared to a handful of (over)salted peanuts or crisps, or even chocolate). In fact, it is 100% cocoa, no added sugar, no other ingredients. Pure bliss! With being less processed than chocolate, more of the good stuff remains inside too. More antioxidants, more flavonoids, etc.

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Cocoa bean cracked open to reveal the crunchy nibs inside

Luckily, you don’t have to be a bean-to-bar chocolate maker in order to enjoy this treat. Nowadays, most health food shops carry a few cocoa-based items such as cocoa nibs or chocolate covered cocoa beans, and you can always check your local chocolate shops, some of them might sell nibs or beans too. The quality of these products might not be always equal. If they don’t specify on the packaging, then the nibs/beans in the bag are most likely cheaper, less flavourful varieties from West Africa (still marketed with the same message, so beware!), so try to look for single origin beans/nibs from South American origin for example.

Okay, so you grabbed a bag of cocoa nibs. Now what? Here are my 12+ tips on where and how you can use them in the kitchen. Believe me, you’ll be hooked!

  1. On their own as a snack
    As I said, they work just like nuts and seeds, great to nibble on at any time of the day. They even give you a little energy kick due to cocoa’s theobromine content that is similar to caffeine.
  2. In granola
    Whether you eat ready-made granola or you make your own at home, you can always mix in a good handful of cocoa nibs to add some extra crunch and guilt-free chocolate flavour.
  3. Sprinkle on porridge
    Similarly to granola, you can sprinkle cocoa nibs on top of your morning porridge. I find it works really well with fresh fruits too (strawberry, banana, pear, apple, apricot).

    Chocolate porridge with fresh strawberries and cocoa nibs – perfect start for the day!
  4. Sprinkle on yoghurt
    Again, just a variation of the above, plain Greek yoghurt with a teaspoon of runny honey  (or any of your favourite yoghurts) and some cocoa nibs create a lovely and quick dessert.
  5. Swap choc chips in cookies
    Are you worried about too much sugar in your favourite chocolate chip cookies? Next time, swap some or all of  the chocolate chips to cocoa nibs, and you’ll have a wonderful crunchy, chocolatey cookie with much less added sugar.
  6. Add to brownies, muffins, banana bread
    Cocoa nibs can be a great addition to any homemade cakes and bakes, especially the chocolatey and nutty ones.
  7. Add to homemade energy balls/flapjacks
    As cocoa nibs don’t need further cooking/baking, you can easily use them in no-bake recipes such as energy balls or flapjacks to get a chocolate flavour and some added crunch.
  8. Put in a trail mix
    Cocoa nibs go really well with other crunchy nuts and dried fruits, and they cut back on the sweetness too.
  9. Try them in brittles
    If you swap peanuts or other nuts for cocoa nibs, you’ll end up with an amazing brittle! The caramel creates a fine sweet and crunchy layer on the nibs that makes it impossible to stop eating it. It also looks really pro if you use the brittle shards as cake decoration.
  10. Blend them in a smoothie
    Would you like to create a chocolate flavoured smoothie without adding chocolate or bitter cocoa powder to your drink? Add cocoa nibs! Don’t expect a sweet chocolate flavour, but you’ll get a nice mellow cocoa taste without any added sugar, and it still won’t be bitter. Adding fresh vanilla seeds will get you even closer to a real chocolate flavour. Especially great with bananas and coconut.
  11. Add to herbal tea mix
    I’m sure you’ve already seen cocoa shell tea. This is the shell of the cocoa bean that is removed before grinding the nibs. Brewing the shell gives a very light cocoa flavoured drink, so adding in nibs will only enhance this more. You can probably find other chocolate flavoured tea mixes, but why not create your own? Nibs go really well with rooibos or black tea, but feel free to experiment. I once brewed together fresh mint leaves and cocoa nibs and it was very tasty and refreshing. And again, cocoa taste without added sugar!

    choco rooibos
    Rooibos tea mix with spices and cocoa nibs
  12. Soak them in alcohol
    If you like DIY liquors and cocktails, why not experiment with cocoa nibs. You know you can create vanilla extract by soaking vanilla pods in vodka, so let’s swap that for cocoa nibs. Chocolate vodka, boom! Use any kind of strong spirit, leave it macerate for a few weeks and then enjoy your new drink on its own, or create some wonderful cocktails. (Chocolate martini, cocoa gin, etc.)

+1: Grind your cocoa nibs
Use a food processor or coffee grinder to grind cocoa nibs into a fine powder, (aka cocoa bean flour). This can be used instead of  e.g. almond flour in many recipes such as macaron shells, cakes, muffins, brownies, etc. Just get creative!

Hungry for some more detailed recipes? I will share with you some of my favourites in the upcoming posts.

cocoanibs
I love cocoa nibs, and you?

 

How do you like cocoa nibs? Let me know your favourite recipe in the comments below!

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My Chocolate Eurotrip

If you have followed my recent Instagram posts (if you haven’t, you can find me here), you know that in the last five weeks I travelled across Europe by car. The main reason behind this trip was to introduce our 5-month-old son to the rest of the family living in Hungary. But of course, one cannot ignore the added benefits of a trip like this, so I obviously planned to visit chocolate shops, chocolate makers and chocolatiers on the way. The convenience of going by car is that it’s flexible (but long, oh yes!), not to mention the ample space in the back to put all the goodies I buy (+gifts for the baby of course). In this post, I’m going to briefly share with you the main highlights of this holiday, but only as an appetizer. More detailed posts are on the way about each of the chocolate makers and chocolatiers I visited to give you as much insight as possible.

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ITINERARY
Our itinerary was quite straightforward, as we have done this route many times over the last 5 years. We always stop in Brussels, as we have some friends to visit here, and adding a few chocolate shops won’t do any harm either. This time though, because of precautionary reasons regarding our baby, we planned another stop on the way in Germany. This way, we weren’t bound to the car all day on the motorway, but could stretch our legs and even do a bit of sightseeing. On the way out we had a quick stroll in Heidelberg, a university city and found an amazing fine food and fine chocolate shop, L’Épicerie.

After Heidelberg, we traversed Austria and entered Hungary at the northwest border just after Vienna to say hello to my Mum in Győr (my beloved hometown). For the next two weeks we had our “base camp” in the capital Budapest, where I visited many chocolate professionals. We spent our last week in Hungary in Győr, which proved to be a perfect base camp for day-out trips to chocolate factories such as Harrer in Sopron or Zotter in Austria.

The last week of our trip started with going through Austria and Germany once again, this time stopping in Trier, a city full of ancient Roman architecture, a huge cathedral and the birthplace of Karl Marx. Unfortunately it was Whit Monday so most of the shops were closed, but still managed to buy some chocolates in a little café near the cathedral. Finally, we arrived to Brussels again, and we spent 4 days here before returning home to Cambridge.

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HIGHLIGHTS
Not surprisingly the highlights of this journey were the meetings with chocolate makers and chocolatiers and the factory visits. I crammed in as many as possible, and I am fairly happy with the outcome, as I only missed one visit out of the 8 that I planned.

  • Fabric Csokoládé (Hungary)
  • Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (Hungary)
  • Harrer Chocolat (Hungary)
  • ChocoFacture (Hungary)
  • Zsuzsanna Ötvös (Hungary)
  • Zotter Schokolade (Austria)
  • Mike&Becky (Belgium)

In Hungary, I visited Fabric Csokoládé, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé, Harrer Chocolat, ChocoFacture and Zsuzsi, a chocolate friend (now working as a pastry chef) who used to work with the late Szántó Tibor. In Austria, I had a fabulous day at the Zotter Factory and Edible Zoo, a wonderful place full of chocolate and fun. In Brussels, I visited the atelier where I had my training and also many different little shops in the city centre. The best part here was my visit to Mike&Becky, a couple who opened a fine chocolate shop and make their own bean-to-bar chocolates as well. And the missed visit was that of Benoit Nihant’s factory. But fear not, I’m already planning for my next trip in September!

TIPS FOR CHOCOLATE TOURS

Whenever I go somewhere new, my first thing to do is to check chocolate shops on Google Maps and on the Find Chocolate! app by Ecole Chocolat. I also just simply google the “city name + chocolate” to see what comes up, and I like to read reviews on TripAdvisor too. The beauty of this is that I still find places that were nowhere on the Internet, so there’s always an element of surprise! But, this minor preparation is important for a successful chocolate hunt. In my upcoming posts, I will share with you maps of the places I visited so that all you have to do is download, and you’re ready to go.

Buying chocolate while sightseeing can be tricky especially during warmer season. May was particularly hot this year throughout Europe, so it gave me a little headache to keep my chocolate stash cool in the car and while out and about. Investing in small insulated bags (zippered ones are best) can be a chocolate lifesaver. I must admit, that I haven’t thought of it, but luckily we got a free bag at Zotter factory for buying a lot of chocolates 😉 The good thing is, these insulated bags are reusable and can come handy for any other outdoor activities or picnics too.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

In the upcoming weeks, I will post in detail about the visited chocolate professionals to give you an insight into their work, their products and philosophy. I didn’t conduct any formal interviews, because I wanted to concentrate on the person behind the chocolates. I’m hoping to show you a few brands that you may not know so well yet, and I will try to give you some help on where to find these chocolates on the international market (if available). Please, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the brands/makers or to give your opinion on these posts in the comment section below.

Let’s get started!