5 Sweet and Savory Things to Do With Cocoa Nibs

February 17, 2014

Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52 -- with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: What, exactly, are you supposed to do with cocoa nibs? Alice tells all.

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Cacao or cocoa nibs are bits of hulled cocoa beans. Most nibs are sold roasted (and those have the best flavor). They are unsweetened -- thus somewhat bitter -- and super crunchy, with intense and rather primal chocolate flavors.

More: 10 Chocolate Cookies. You're welcome.

Nibs were once found only in chocolate factories, where they were ground up and made into chocolate. Nibs are still the defining ingredient in all chocolate manufacture, but they are now also available in better supermarkets and specialty stores. You can use nibs in all kinds of sweet and savory ways. Here are five to get you started.

5 Sweet and Savory Things to Do with Cocoa Nibs

1. Sprinkle nibs on vanilla (or other) ice cream for a grown-up ice cream experience.

2. Add nibs -- in addition to or instead of -- nuts in cookie recipes.

3. Make cocoa nib-infused whipped cream: Bring 1/3 cup of roasted nibs to a simmer in 1 cup of heavy cream. Off heat, cover and let steep 20 minutes and then strain the cream into a bowl and discard the nibs. Chill the cream several hours before whipping it with a little sugar to taste.

4. Sprinkle nibs on salad (as you would nuts or seeds) of arugula or other greens. You can add one or a combination of the following: currants, shaved fennel, pomegranate seeds, crumbled goat cheese, Parmesan cheese, Niçoise olives.

5. Make nibby pesto: In a mortar (or mini food processor) pulverize 1/3 cup of nibs with 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a gritty paste. Add and pulverize 12 Niçoise olives and a few fresh basil leaves. Mix in another 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil and salt to taste. Serve on toasted slices of French bread, plain or topped with prosciutto or shaved Parmesan or Asiago cheese. 

Alice's new book Seriously Bitter Sweet is a complete revision of her IACP award-winning Bittersweet, updated for the 54%, 61%, and 72% (and beyond) bars available today. It's packed with tricks, techniques, and answers to every chocolate question, plus 150 seriously delicious recipes -- both savory and sweet. 


Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Ronnie R
    Ronnie R
  • Karine Yong
    Karine Yong
  • dianeshuggins
  • eat chic
    eat chic
  • jamcook
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Ronnie R. September 7, 2023
The availability of fine chocolate has become so easy for the everyday consumer that it still astounds me. Back when I received Alice Medrich's first cookbook, 'Cocolat', as a gift in 1991, I had no idea where to find some of the brands (Valrhona, Callebaut, etc) she mentioned. Now I can find them at higher end grocery stores or I can buy fine equivalents at places like Trader Joe's for ridiculously low prices. What a time to be alive!

I've been using a brand of cacao nibs made from Criollo (Peruvian) cacao that you can buy in bulk on Amazon called Terrasoul Superfoods for dirt cheap and it has amazingly floral and fruity flavor. I've tried some others on the market and they've been.... not good. The ones I buy from Amazon work GREAT in Alice's Nibby Ice Cream recipe and they're also delicious in her Nibby Pecan Cookie recipe.
Karine Y. January 17, 2018
Hi! I recently got given a packet of Organic Cocao Nibs. Never used these before. Am I able to eat these straight out of the packet or with my toast with peanut butter? I'm aware of the various baking recipes as I have seen them around. Just wondering if I'm able to eat these straight out of the packet. Not sure if it's roasted. it's a Oh so natural wholefoods.,Organic Cacao Nibs.
dianeshuggins December 19, 2014
How long do you think nibs will last in the pantry?
eat C. February 20, 2014
I love to top avocado toast with chili flakes, olive oil, sea salt, a squeeze of lime, black pepper, and a spoonful of cacao nibs. Sounds strange, but the combination of flavors and textures is excellent.
Alice M. February 20, 2014
This sounds good to me! They are also good sprinkled on a warm buttered corn tortilla, or on a piece of toasted baguette spread with soft goat cheese.....
eat C. February 21, 2014
Oh the baguette with goat cheese and cacao nibs sounds incredible. I will definitely try this over the weekend. Thanks for the tip!
jamcook February 19, 2014
Thanks for the roasting tip Beth, I will try it soon. My nibs do not look as dark as the ones pictured, so I am almost certain that they are unroasted, or maybe only partially roasted
Sheedah D. February 19, 2014
That pesto is a great idea! Sheesh! I'll have to try that. Great article!
KateandLyssa February 18, 2014
One of my favorite things to do with nibs is to grind up a few with my morning coffee and brew as I always do. So fragrant, so bitter, so good!
Beth100 February 18, 2014
For those of us with a stash of raw cacao nibs, I found the following reference on the web (haven't tried it yet:)
"To roast cacao nibs, pre-heat your oven to 300 F. Spread the nibs out on a cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes (check them at 12 minutes and stir to ensure that the smallest pieces are not burning). Take them out of the oven when they start to smell like baked brownies."
mrslarkin February 18, 2014
I'm pretty sure all nibs are sold already roasted. Actually, it's the cacao beans that are roasted, then cracked open, and the seeds crushed into nibs.

Via Daniel Prieto Preston, founder and CEO of Cacao Prieto, "cocoa is actually a misprint in an English dictionary from the mid-1850s, which became just sort of universally used.” Here's the story, in its entirety:

I use cacao nibs all the time in baking. Great in chocolate chip cookies, waffles, pancakes, and I love them most in Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies (I think her recipe is on this site.)
Janet's K. February 18, 2014
Are cacao nibs always raw? I have only come across cacao nibs since I started reading about raw diet. And what is the difference between cocoa and cacao? Thanks
Alice M. February 20, 2014
Most but not all nibs sold are roasted already, so do check the package and see if it says "roasted". Any that are packaged unroasted are likely to be labeled "raw". I prefer the flavor of roasted nibs....and I agree, that if you are going to roast them yourself, 300 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes, with lots of tossing and mixing will do the job. When referring to nibs or beans, cocoa and cacao mean the same thing. There is confusion over the terms when used in other contexts, since cocoa is used in Britain to mean cacao, whereas here in the US we generally use the term cocoa for the powder that we use to make a beverage or bake a cake.

jamcook February 17, 2014
I have the same question. I was given a bag of raw nibs, and was wondering if they could be home roasted or used in their raw state. Thanks
Beth100 February 17, 2014
Thank you for this temptation-filled post! I have raw cacao nibs - can I roast them in my oven?
LLStone February 17, 2014
Thanks so much for these tips! I just ordered some nibs for cookies, but got more than I imagined. I will try all of these suggestions.