The Savory Side of Chocolate

Cacao Nib Tapenade

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

When my husband suggested a lemon dessert for Valentine’s Day to go with some fresh raspberries he brought home my first thought was, what about chocolate?

Chocolate had to appear on my menu for this special day so I turned to a box of unsweetened cacao nibs in my pantry. I whirled them into an appetizer spread with olives, extra virgin olive oil and a little smoky heat from chipotle chili powder, a nod to chocolate’s Mesoamerican roots.  It’s a surprisingly tasty twist on tapenade.

If it seems strange to eat chocolate in a savory form, an article in Smithsonian Magazine (1) points out that for 90% of chocolate’s long history, going back to at least 1400 B.C.E., chocolate was consumed unsweetened, as a beverage. Today, interest in drinking chocolate as brewed cocoa beans (not sweetened cocoa or hot chocolate) is growing as an alternative to coffee and tea.

Called the essence of chocolate, cocoa (or cacao) nibs are crushed bits of roasted, husked cocoa beans with a subtle chocolate flavor and crunch without the sweetness you get from chocolate candy and baking chocolate.   Cocoa nibs have more dietary fiber and may have more antioxidant flavanols, thus greater health benefits, than more processed forms of chocolate.  Research with cocoa powder, another simpler and unsweetened form of chocolate, suggests that bacteria in our gut feed on the fiber in chocolate and produce short chain fatty acids, byproducts that may help with satiety and reduce inflammation in the body. (2,3) Reducing inflammation may be key to chocolate’s ability to increase insulin sensitivity, improve vascular function and lower blood pressure.

I’ve written about the health benefits of chocolate in three other blogs that include dessert recipes:

Happy Valentine’s Day!


  1. A Brief History of Chocolate, by Amanda Fiegl. March 1, 2008.


  1. Gut Microbes Gobble Cocoa, Tracy Vence March 19, 2014. The Scientist


  1. Why Is Dark Chocolate Good for You? Katherine Harmon Courage;March 19, 2014. Scientific American.


Cacao Nib Tapenade

This recipe was inspired by the Nibby Pesto recipe Alice Medrich’s book, Seriously Bittersweet, the Ultimate Dessert Maker’s Guide to Chocolate.

Use as an hors d’oeuvre on toasted baguette slices (brushed with garlic-oil) with cheese, spoon on roasted or steamed veggies, or try a dollop on cooked salmon or other fish.


Makes 1 generous cup.

½ cup Italian parsley leaves

1/3 cup cacao nibs

1/3 cup whole natural (skin on) almonds, toasted

1/3 cup pitted oil-cured nicoise or Kalamata olives

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion

¼ teaspoon chipotle powder


Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until very finely chopped. Do not blend to a puree.  Set aside for 1 hour for flavors to meld. Chill for longer storage. Bring to room temperature before serving.

© Lorelle S Del Matto 2017

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


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