Cacao nibs can be a healthy substitute for chocolate in many different applications if you want to improve your health while not skimping on flavor. The scientific consensus also shows that cacao nibs (the dried, cracked pieces of cocoa beans that would otherwise become chocolate) are a healthy source of minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
But is it better to get your cacao beans raw or roasted? The answer is that there are benefits to both. But of course, there are different factors to consider in making your choice.
What Are Cacao Beans?
Cacao beans are the seeds of the Theobroma Cacao tree, dried and fermented to remove the pulp. You can use the seeds to make chocolate, but they can also be cracked and broken without being ground to become cocoa or cacao nibs.
It’s possible to buy whole cacao beans, but it’s easiest to buy them in nib form: cracked or chopped pieces, sold by weight. They used to be available in health food stores or specialty shops solely, but increasing demand means that you can find them in a lot more places these days, even on Amazon and other online retailers.
You can even find cacao-derived products like drinks, juices, or tinctures. For this article, however, we’re focusing on the nibs themselves. But a key question comes up a lot: are raw or roasted cacao beans better?
We need to get down to what makes them different to find the answer.
What Raw vs Roasted Cacao Beans Have in Common
Raw and roasted cacao beans are the same base ingredient, just handled a little differently. Both products are the seeds of the cacao tree, extracted from the fruit, fermented and dried. Fruits from the cacao tree don’t taste like chocolate, but the raw, dried seeds already have some of the flavor notes that you find in high-quality chocolate bars.
Both raw and roasted cacao beans or cacao nibs get the same initial processing and come from the same plant. You might be able to get raw and roasted cacao beans from the same tree if you order them the right way.
What’s The Difference?
The only real difference between raw and roasted cacao beans is the roasting. Raw cacao nibs get fermented, dried, and cracked into small pieces before being packaged and sold. Roasted cacao beans undergo the same process, and then the grower or producer roasts the seeds at a high temperature.
Heating the cacao beans shut down the natural enzymes present in the seeds. Still, it also increases the flavor compounds we associate with chocolate, making roasted cacao beans taste a little more like dark chocolate.
What’s Better About Raw Cacao Beans?
Some studies suggest that raw cacao beans are the best option to maximize your health benefits. This is because raw cacao beans still maintain the enzymes and all of the chemical compounds within the cacao nibs.
After all, they’re processed without exposure to outside heat. The fermentation process does generate some heat, but it’s not enough to shut down any of the chemical compounds in the beans.
Finally, raw cacao beans retain some of the fruity, plant-based flavors of the cacao seeds themselves. So, for people who don’t like the flavor of chocolate, raw cacao nibs may be a way to get the health benefits without the taste they dislike.