Without its cloak of cream and sugar, chocolate is nothing more than a bean. Husked, roasted, and gently crushed, however, these naked legumes, or cocoa nibs, are startlingly perfect all on their own.
Crunchier than a nut, intense, and devilishly bitter, nibs are surprisingly versatile. They’re kind to both sweet and savory flavors, complementing everything from blackberries to beef. Recently introduced to the mainstream by chocolate maker Scharffen Berger, cocoa nibs are quickly becoming the adventurous ingredient of choice among many top chefs.
At Atlanta’s Ritz Carlton Dining Room, Chef Bruno Ménard uses nibs and pistachios to encrust plump langoustines, giving them an exceptionally commanding crunch. WD-50’s chef, Wylie Dufresne, prefers to use nibs as garnish, sprinkling them atop a foie gras, anchovy terrine for a tiny, yet complex bite.
Perhaps the cocoa nib’s greatest talent, however, is its ability to transform a once-familiar food into a wild, new adventure. For Alice Medrich, author of the definitive chocolate cookbook, Bittersweet (Artisan, 2003), ordinary whipped cream became an epiphany once she infused it with the flavor of cocoa nibs.
“Cocoa nib [whipped] cream is positively exquisite,” she sighs, “It’s like whipped albino chocolate. If you’ve ever dreamed about white chocolate that was not sweet, had a true chocolate flavor, and a fresh creamy taste, your dreams have come true.”