With Valentine’s Day around the corner, chocolate is on the minds of many! Cacao beans, from which chocolate is made, is one of the most nutrient packed plants on the planet, supplying a plethora of phytonutrients, fiber, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and whole host of vitamins and minerals! The trick is to get the nutritional benefits of the cacao without the saturated fat, refined sugar and preservatives or additives that commonly accompany it. The answer, is cacao powder and cacao nibs! The nibs are found inside the cacao pod and are typically dried, fermented and processed into chocolate. Since this processing destroys some of the nutrients, raw cacao nibs are a great choice, as they are a potent source of flavonoids, which protect our cells from damage and support our immune system. These same flavonoids have contributed to the super food status of grapes, tea and berries. (More on cacao nibs below.)
To add yet another source of cocoa, we reached for Chocolate Mint Teeccino. We had so much fun playing around with Teeccino when we made our Pumpkin Almond Chai Latte around the holidays, that my creative juices flowed right into the dessert arena. My kids love the fact that they can enjoy Teeccino (a naturally caffeine free herbal coffee) anytime, as they feel quite “adult-ish,” and it can even support healthy digestion. Chocolate mint is one of their favorite flavors, which just begged to be integrated into a delectable little bite of goodness, that delivers flavor and nutrition!
Just as I had built the chocolate flavor by adding three sources, I did the same with mint. To complement the Chocolate Mint Teeccino, I added pure peppermint extract and finished off the recipe with the addition of chopped, fresh mint leaves. After all, mint is a leafy green, full of chlorophyll and other healthful phytonutrients, and I am always looking for opportunities to add more greens into our diet!
Triple Chocolate Mint Treats (no refined sugar, soy-free, gluten-free*)
These were such a hit with the family that we tend to keep a bag in our freezer at all times! They are made of whole foods, without any refined sugar, soy or salt, and they even include a leafy green, for a true phytonutrient party!
2 1/2 cups of oats* (can use certified gluten-free oats, if needed)
3/4 cup walnuts
1/2 c flaxseed, ground
1 cup Medjool dates (~12) weighed 8 oz, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup organic raisins (weighed 3 oz)
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp cacao powder
6 oz of brewed Chocolate Mint flavored Teeccino (tea or coffee)
10-15 large fresh mint leaves, chopped
10 drops of mint extract
cacao nibs for rolling/coating the treats
- Brew 6 fl oz of Chocolate Mint Teeccino and then add the dates (be sure to double check that you have removed all of the pits) and raisins, cover and let soak for at least 1 hour, though overnight in the fridge is best.
- Combine oats, nuts, ground flax, and cacao in food processor. Pulse until well combined and oats are broken down. Transfer these dry ingredients to a bowl.
- To the empty processor bowl, add the dates, raisins and any leftover soaking liquid (Teeccino), mint extract and fresh mint leaves. Pulse until dates and raisins have been pureed and then add dry ingredients and pulse until well combined. Depending on the capacity of your food processor, it may be best to make this in two batches.
- Either chill the mixture in refrigerator for a few hours (to a few days) before shaping into treats, or get right to it!
- Using a tablespoon or #60 scoop (small cookie scoop -just over 1 TBSP), make ~55 round balls, roll in a small amount of cacao nibs and either keep round, flatten a bit into a “cookie” shape, form into hearts or even use a cookie cutter (if mixture is well chilled).
- Place the treats on a parchment paper lined plate or baking tray put into the freezer. After a few hours to overnight, transfer to a freezer zip-top bag for easy storage. The texture will be perfect for you to enjoy, no need to let them thaw!
More on cacao nibs: You may not be familiar with cacao nibs, but they can be a great alternative to chocolate chips in many recipes. While they don’t add sweetness, they have a deep chocolate flavor, a delightful crunch, and are a natural source of caffeine and theobromine, which are stimulants. Theobromine is a non-addictive stimulant that has heart promoting properties, as it can improve blood flow, reduce thickening of the artery walls and the build-up of plaque. It can provide an energy boost, support feelings of mental wellbeing, help relax tense muscles and may even treat depression and reduce cancer risk.
Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, conducts corporate wellness work, does professional speaking engagements and has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV. For more recipes like this one, be sure to purchase a copy of her innovative cookbook – The Foodie Bar™ Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at www.FoodieBars.com