We refer to cacao as the pure cacao bean that grows in trees around Latin America and Africa. Cacao is the purest and most natural state of the bean from where chocolate is derived. What we regularly consume as chocolate is the cacao bean after it has been processed and added other ingredients.
Cocoa is the powder extracted after exposing the cacao bean to heat. By applying heat, the properties contained in the pure cacao bean are destroyed. Furthermore, most cocoa powders have added sugars and conservatives.
Cacao nibs are nothing more than broken cacao beans. Most of the cacao nibs found in supermarkets are from the Trinitario variety. This is a hybrid of the Foreigner and Native variety. Foreigner being the mass produced bean, mostly from West Africa and wildly used in the massed produced chocolate brands. Native cacao is the most rare and unique bean. While consuming the broken nib is a healthy way to benefit from the cacao bean properties, we recommend using the whole cacao bean for three reasons. First, if the nib is broken, it means that it was processed and peeled by a machine and not much care went into keeping the cacao bean's quality. Second, once the cacao bean is broken, it start the oxidation processes much faster, this means that it looses key nutritional properties by the time we consume it. Finally, if the bean is broken, it is most difficult to identify what variety of cacao bean I am buying. Likely not the Native.