Live Superfoods Ecuadorian Cacao Nibs
Live Superfoods USDA-certified organic raw Ecuadorian cacao nibs come from Arriba nacional beans, which are highly regarded for their aroma and flavor. Arriba nacional beans come from Forestero trees grown in Ecuador. Forastero trees are hardy and disease resistant, which is why they are the source of 70% of the cacao grown today. Arriba nacional cacao is different from other Forastero beans; possessing a smooth and delicate flavor and a floral aroma, Arriba is less bitter and has depth of flavor often referred to as "nutty."
What Are Cacao Nibs?
Raw cacao beans are actually seeds from the cacao pod. They are protected by a paper-thin shell, which is removed before eating. When the shell is removed, the bean often breaks into small pieces, called nibs. Nibs are our most popular cacao product because they share all the nutritional benefits of the whole bean with the added convenience of having the shell removed for you.
Excellent with lucuma, vanilla powder, agave nectar, yacon syrup and coconut oil.
This product carries the California Prop 65 warning. Not sure what this means? Click here to learn more.
Why Unprocessed Chocolate is Good for You
Many people consider eating chocolate a “guilty pleasure.” But the reputation of chocolate as a junk food should more accurately be attributed to the harmful effects of commercial processing and refining techniques, and the other ingredients commonly added, most notably white sugar. All chocolate is made from the cacao (cocoa) bean, and cacao beans in their natural, unprocessed, unadulterated state are rich in nutrients and beneficial to health.
Antioxidants: Cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids than any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and black and green teas. In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea. Health benefits of these antioxidants include:
- Promote cardiovascular health - Help dilate bloods vessels, reduce blood clotting, improve circulation, help regulate heartbeat and blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, and reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks.
- Protect from environmental and metabolic toxins - Help repair and resist damage caused by free radicals, and may reduce risk of certain cancers.
Neurotransmitters: By increasing the levels of specific neurotransmitters in our brains, cacao promotes positive outlook, facilitates rejuvenation and simply helps us feel good.
- Serotonin - Cacao raises the level of serotonin in the brain; thus acts as an anti-depressant, helps reduce PMS symptoms, and promotes a sense of well-being.
- Endorphins - Cacao stimulates the secretion of endorphins, producing a pleasurable sensation similar to the “runner’s high” a jogger feels after running several miles.
- Phenylethylamine - Found in chocolate, phenylethylamine is also created within the brain and released when we are in love. Acts as mild mood elevator and anti-depressant, and helps increase focus and alertness.
- Anandamide - Anandamide is known as the “bliss chemical” because it is released by the brain when we are feeling great. Cacao contains both N-acylethanolamines, believed to temporarily increase the levels of anandamide in the brain, and enzyme inhibitors that slow its breakdown. Promotes relaxation, and helps us feel good longer.
Essential Minerals: Cacao beans are rich in a number of essential minerals, including magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese.
- Magnesium - Cacao seems to be the #1 source of magnesium of any food. Magnesium balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones, and helps regulate heartbeat and blood pressure. Magnesium deficiency, present in 80% of Americans, is linked with PMT, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and joint problems.
- Sulfur - Cacao is high in the beauty mineral sulfur. Sulfur builds strong nails and hair, promotes beautiful skin, detoxifies the liver, and supports healthy pancreas functioning.
Essential fats: There is a misperception that chocolate is fattening. In truth, the fats in cocoa butter are healthy fats. Cacao contains oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, also found in olive oil, that may raise good cholesterol. Also, substances found in cacao are known to help reduce appetite.
Important note- To fully benefit from chocolate’s wide array of nutrients, eat chocolate that is as close to its natural state as possible. Whole cacao beans and nibs are best. You lose many of the health benefits when you eat commercially produced chocolate.
Cacao: Its History and Use From the Time of the Aztecs to Today
The cacao tree has been cultivated in Mexico and Central and South America for thousands of years, and it has been so highly valued that some Native peoples once used its seed, or bean, as currency. The Aztecs believed cacao to be of divine origin, and both they and the Mayans used the roasted bean in the famous beverage Chocolatl, together with vanilla and other flavorings.
In the early 16th century, Columbus brought sacks of cacao back to Europe, but he did not realize its economic value. Then, in 1519, Cortez brought cacao back to Spain, and it was soon made into a luxury drink for the upper classes. By the 17th and early 18th centuries, chocolate was considered a cure for many illnesses, as well as a catalyst for provoking passion, although it was still too expensive for the general populace. Finally, in the 18th century, chocolate houses were established in London, making chocolate available to a broader spectrum of society, and their popularity quickly surpassed that of the coffee houses.
Today cacao is planted on over 43,000 square miles worldwide. Forty percent of production is from Cote d’Ivoire, while Ghana and Indonesia produce about 15% each, and Brazil, Nigeria, and Cameroon provide smaller quantities.
How Cacao is Harvested
Cacao beans are harvested today in much the same way as they were by the Aztecs. After the pods ripen, which takes 5 to 6 months, they are removed from the tree and carefully cut open with a machete, and the cacao beans are extracted.
After harvesting, the beans are placed on banana leaves in large wooden boxes and left to ferment for several days. During fermentation, complex chemical changes take place. The bitterness of the bean is reduced and the rich chocolate flavor begins to develop. The beans are dried after fermentation, and during this drying process, the brown color develops and further flavor development occurs.
The Different Varieties of Cacao
There are three main cultivar groups of cacao beans grown today:
The Criollo group is the most rare and expensive of the three. Criollo trees are small and difficult to grow, and account for no more than 5% of the world's cacao crop. The chocolate made from the Criollo bean has a delicate and complex array of flavors. Often referred to as the “King of Cacao,” Criollo is highly prized and is used by many of the new “micro chocolate makers.”
The Forastero group makes up about 70% of the cacao grown today. Forastero trees are easier to grow and significantly hardier than Criollo, resulting in more affordable beans. Well-prepared Forastero is what most of us are used to eating in chocolate. Most Forastero cacao is considered bulk-grade, with the exception of Arriba nacional. Arriba is a highly prized variety of the Forastero group, and is highly regarded as a fine/ flavor bean, much like Criollo and Trinitario cacao.
The Trinitario group is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero, and it makes up about 20% of the cacao beans produced today. After a natural disaster wiped out most of the Criollo crops in the 1700s, this hybrid of Criollo and Forastero trees was introduced. This "new" breed retained the delicate flavors of Criollo and had the heartiness of the Forastero trees. Trinitario cacao is considered a fine/ flavor cacao, and is often used in quality dark chocolates.
Different Kinds of Chocolate
Many types of chocolate are made from the cacao bean:
- Chocolate liquor is made from raw, ground cacao nibs (the meat of the cacao bean)
- Cocoa butter is the fat of the cacao bean, and is solid at room temperature
- Cocoa powder is made by separating most of the cocoa butter from the liquor
- Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor, containing about 50% cocoa butter
- Bittersweet chocolate contains at least 35% liquor, along with cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla
- Semisweet chocolate contains the same ingredients as bittersweet but has a greater sugar content
- Milk chocolate has only about 10% chocolate liquor, and also contains about 12% milk solids
- White chocolate does not contain any chocolate liquor; it gets its flavor from cocoa butter
Using Cacao Beans and Nibs at Home
If you are using whole beans, simply crunch them between your fingers to loosen and remove the peel. You can use the beans whole or grind them in a spice mill/coffee grinder or food processor. Then add them to smoothies, teas, desserts, raw food bars or any dish that calls for the delicious flavor of chocolate. They are especially good when used in recipes with our vanilla beans. Here are some more detailed suggestions for enjoying the exquisite flavor of cacao:
1. Try eating them straight, a tablespoon at a time. Chew thoroughly and experience the taste extravaganza of raw (or roasted) chocolate.
2. Sprinkle on yogurt, granola, desserts, etc.
3. Make a delicious chocolate shake with dairy or nut milk, coconut oil, a frozen banana, agave nectar, and cacao beans.
4. Add agave nectar, yacon sweetener, or honey to the raw cacao nibs and chew!
5. Freeze cacao nibs with sweeteners (agave nectar or honey is fantastic). Eat cold.
6. Blend powdered cacao into herbal teas with the Peruvian superfood maca.
7. Add cacao nibs to ice creams for the healthiest chocolate chip ice cream in the world.
8. Create a raw chocolate bar! Blend the following raw ingredients together: cacao, agave nectar, carob powder, maca, coconut oil, and cashews. Pour into a mold and freeze. Eat cold and experience the truth about the food of the gods!
9. Grind whole beans or nibs into a powder and combine with coconut oil to make a chocolate sauce. Use in cookies, brownies or other raw or baked desserts.
10. If you have a Champion juicer, you can make unsweetened baker’s chocolate by running the nibs or unpeeled whole beans through it. To make a “liquor” run the powder through the Champion several more times until it separates into powder and liquid.
11. Make a scrumptious chocolate nut fudge. In a food processor or blender, start with your favorite nut (cashews or almonds are particularly good) and add coconut oil, agave nectar or honey, coconut flakes, cacao beans, vanilla, and a pinch of salt.
Cacao nibs keep well in cool, dry conditions.