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    Ask the Chef: How Do I Use Cacao Beans?

    By Julie Morris, Superfood Chef | October 19, 2015

    How do I use cacao beans in recipes?

    Cacao is easily one of the most popular superfoods around … and why not? It's chocolate! Super natural, super nutrient-dense chocolate, that is. Real cacao comes in many forms, such as powder, nibs, and butter … but ALL chocolate and cacao products start with the beans.

    Cacao beans are strangely named, as they're really not a bean at all -- technically they are a large seed. Cacao pods, which look like small, colorful footballs and grow on tropically-inclined cacao trees, house these “beans,†which are scooped from their pods, naturally fermented (to remove bitterness), washed, and dried before being brought to market. It is rather rare to see whole cacao beans available commercially, but Navitas Naturals offers them to adventurous cooks who enjoy and who love stand-out ingredients. With their strong, unsweetened chocolate flavor and large, crunchy size and texture, cacao bean recipes are few and far between. But in fact, there are many ways you can use this very special form of chocolate:

    Enjoy a date energy snack.
    One of the quickest ways you can enjoy a cacao bean in all its glory is to pit a date, spread a small layer of nut butter inside the cavity (optional), and place a cacao bean (peeled or not) where the pit was. Close up the date and enjoy this crunchy chocolate snack any time you need an energy boost - from an afternoon at work to backpacking on the open trail!

    Make chocolate truly from scratch.
    If you want the experience of making chocolate 100% from bean to bar, you'll need cacao beans! Although the paper-thin light brown skin on the outside of the bean is fully edible (and flavorless), you'll want to peel it away for chocolate making. Crush the beans by hand into nibs (yes, that's all cacao nibs are - cacao bean pieces!), and place the beans into a spice grinder or high speed blender to create the finest powder possible. You can then use this cacao powder along with a liquid sweetener like agave and melted cacao butter or coconut oil to form a smooth chocolate sauce which can be cooled, tempered, and broken into chocolate bars or pieces.

    Use as a dessert ornament.
    Topping a dessert with cacao beans exudes the kind of rustic minimalism that is ideal for a sophisticated recipe. Perch a single cacao bean on the summit of an ice cream sundae, use beans as part of a mandala design on top of a special cheesecake, or anoint a slice of tiramisu with a cacao bean amidst a dusting of cacao powder. Cacao beans are a gorgeous visual gesture to the ingredients within.

    Mix with coffee.
    Next time you grind your coffee beans for a lovely home brew, throw a few cacao beans into the mix as well. Once brewed, you'll enjoy a coffee with mild chocolate undertones, and additional flavonoid content.

    Include in trail mix.
    Treat cacao beans like the large seed they are, by mixing in with sweet dried fruits, nuts, and other seeds. Remember that cacao beans are very potent, so they do best in mixes that are on the sweeter side.

    Cover with chocolate.
    Think chocolate-covered espresso beans on steroids. Place some cacao beans (unpeeled okay) on a small metal tray and store in the freezer until very cold. Melt semi-sweet chocolate (don't go too dark here else your treat will be too bitter), and one by one, dip the cold cacao beans quickly in the chocolate with a spoon and place back on the cold tray. Freeze until solid, then store at room temperature. Chocolate covered chocolate, people!

    Have an additional use for cacao beans? List it below!