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Could this be the world's first waste-free chocolate?


Could this be the world’s first waste-free chocolate?

Scientists have produced chocolate made solely with ingredients from a cocoa pod—using every component of the fruit, cutting not only waste, but also carbon.
May 24, 2024

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For the first time, researchers have managed to produce chocolate made solely with ingredients from a cocoa pod, finding a use for almost every component of the fruit. It’s a process that not only minimizes food waste, but also lowers the overall impacts of this greenhouse gas-intensive food.

Cocoa Pod Crack open a cocoa pod and you’ll see the beans at the center, surrounded by a white pulp, which in turn is embedded in the endocarp, a thick internal layer that’s rimmed finally by the outer husk. 

Usually, chocolate companies use only the prized beans, combined with a bit of the pulp, to make chocolate. But, those remaining components that usually get tossed? It turns out that these make a great replacement for sugar that’s usually farmed separately to make chocolate. That was the surprise discovery of the new research, which saw scientists from ETH Zurich pairing up with chocolate manufacturers to make the more sustainable sweet treat from this ‘waste’.

“We treat it as food, as it should be treated, and give it the value it deserves,” says lead author Kim Mishra, research at ETH Zurich and lead author on the new study. 

To make use of these waste products, Mishra and team extracted the endocarp, dried it, and milled it into a fine powder. The soft white pulp around the beans was gathered up and pressed to form a juice, then concentrated, and mixed together with the powder. When heated, this mixture formed a sweet gel, whose taste was comparable to the sugar usually added to chocolate. The beans were used to make the cocoa mass—and so at the end of this process the only waste product was the thin outer husk.


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Turning these ingredients into something approaching a regular bar of chocolate did require a bit of trial and error, however. The problem, the team discovered, was that when the sweet gel was mixed with the cocoa mass in high amounts, it formed a clumpy texture not likely to appeal. By lowering the gel addition, they achieved a smoother chocolate texture, but that reduced the sweetness levels that makes chocolate so delectable. 

After fine-tuning their recipe however, they settled on a ratio that seemed to work with a panel of expert taste-testers: if the gel was added up to a maximum of 20% of the chocolate weight, the chocolate matched a sweetness approaching that of conventional dark chocolate. This was still quite a bit below the perceived sweetness of traditional dark chocolate, but it was palatable.  

The recipe may need additional work, but for now the researchers are motivated by the environmental potential that their new production method shows. They also carried out a lifecycle analysis on chocolate production to compare their chocolate with a conventional bar, and while their method requires more processing to make the gel, on average their entire process had a lower footprint overall. 

Some of this may be linked to the production of sugar beets for regular chocolate, tuber-like plants that are grown in huge cropland swathes to supply the chocolate industry with sugar each year. By bypassing this step in production, the whole-pod method has the potential to reduce chocolate’s footprint, which can sit anywhere between 1.25 and an incredible 46.7 kilograms of CO2, per kilogram of dark chocolate. “We need to establish a platform technology able to replace sugar in all kinds of foods with a healthier and more sustainable alternative,” reckons Mishra.

There may be benefits to farmers too, if they can market the whole pod instead of just the beans. As Mishra puts it, “Technology, nutrition, environmental impact and smallholder farmer income diversification can work together to improve the entire cocoa value chain.” He and colleagues are now seeking a patent for their process. 

Mishra et. al. “Valorization of cocoa pod side streams improves nutritional and sustainability aspects of chocolate.” Nature Food. 2024.

Image: ©Anthropocene Magazine

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