If you’re baking and your recipe calls for cacao nibs but you don’t have any, don’t worry, there are a couple of easy options you can try. They might not work the exact same way as cacao nibs, but they will get you a result that is close enough.
If you’re unsure what cacao nibs are, they are simply cocoa beans that have already been roasted, and fermented, and lightly ground. They’re the meat inside the cacao beans, but have not been ground into a fine powder just yet, and they still retain some cocoa butter within them.
So let’s see what you could use in place of cacao nibs, if you don’t have any on hand.
Dark chocolate chips or shavings
By dark chocolate we mean very dark chocolate, 65% at least. This is because cacao nibs are high in cacao powder, fiber, have no sugar, and are a bit bitter since they are essentially processed but lightly ground cacao beans (without the smell). A very dark chocolate chip will give you a similar experience:
- a strong bite, since this chocolate can be tough
- an intense chocolate taste
- a slight bitterness and acidity that comes with high cocoa content and very little sugar
- higher protein and fiber than milk chocolate
If you can’t find dark chocolate chips, you can roughly chop a bit of dark chocolate with a knife, or grate the dark chocolate over or into whatever you’re making.
Please note that dark chocolate (bars or chips) has cacao butter. It will melt (unlike cacao nibs), so it won’t retain its texture if you warm it (baking for example). Cacao nibs also have cacao butter, but it hasn’t been separated from the fibers and proteins so these nibs won’t melt like chocolate chips.
Are cacao nibs the same as chocolate chips ? No, but they are similar enough that you can get a similar result. If a recipe calls for chocolate chips and you’ve only got cacao nibs, it really matters what you’re making. Are you baking cookies with chocolate chips inside ? Cacao nibs will be quite crunchy and will provide flavor, but be prepared to use a cookie batter with more sugar as the cocoa nibs have none.
Are you decorating with chocolate chips ? Cacao nibs will look great, but again will be very crunchy. If you’ve got young children or seniors eating, they might find the nibs too much. Are you including chocolate chips in your smoothie or oatmeal ? Cacao nibs will work just the same, just with less sugar.
Read also: Baking Powder VS Flour
Plain cocoa powder
Another option is to use plain cocoa powder, in place of cacao nibs, depending on what you’re making. Cacao powder won’t work if you’re just trying to decorate with cacao nibs, or if you want isolate pockets of chocolate (like in ice cream or cookies). Cacao powder will work to get you a chocolate flavor, but it will be uniform.
This is essentially the powder in cocoa beans, made of fibers and proteins in cacao nibs, without the cocoa butter. You see, to get cocoa powder and butter you roast the cocoa beans, let them ferment, grind them into a very fine powder, and feed everything into a press that literally squeezes the cacao butter out. The cacao powder is left behind, and it what we are talking about now.
So cacao nibs are, essentially, just a step or two before you get to cacao powder. If all you have at home is cacao powder, you can safely use the powder in your baking. The powder will give you the right flavor, but you need a little bit of fat to get the whole flavor (as it’s missing the cacao butter).
Also, cacao or cocoa powder are not sweetened, and neither are cacao nibs. One thing to note is that cacao powder is, well, a powder and it will work very similarly to flour if you’re adding it to a cake batter. For every cup of cacao powder you add, remove a cup of flour. Also if you’re making a smoothie you’ll notice it will be a bit thicker by adding cacao powder.
Carob nibs are actually very similar to cacao nibs, because the flavor of carob is incredibly similar to cacao. Carob is a bit more acidic, but it’s similar enough to cacao to be used as a substitute. You’ll definitely notice a difference, but it will be similar enough to do the job. In terms of looks and texture carob nibs are the closest thing on this list to cacao nibs, since they’re essentially the same type of product, just with a slightly different flavor.
So in short, whatever you decide to use in place of cacao nibs, it will likely work. As long as you’re adaptable and tweak your recipe a little, you can easily incorporate any of these.
If you want to keep the same texture and look, and the way the cacao nibs behave in baking, use carob nibs. Slightly different flavor, but close enough.
If you’re looking for a cacao flavor and don’t care how you achieve it, use cacao powder and substitute some of the flour for cacao, or add it to anything creamy. It will work well but it will be a uniform flavor.
And if you want the look and feel of cacao nibs but more of a chocolate flavor, try dark chocolate chips. These will melt if baked, so they may not work for just every recipe.