Scientists create cocoa-fruit chocolate, which is healthier and more sustainable

Chocolate comes from cacao, a plant with high levels of minerals and antioxidants. Picture: Pixabay

Chocolate comes from cacao, a plant with high levels of minerals and antioxidants. Picture: Pixabay

Published Jun 7, 2024


A group of scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (ETH), have developed a cutting-edge method of producing chocolate in an effort to solve the health and environmental concerns related to conventional chocolate making.

This innovative approach, as described in a study that was published in the journal Nature Food, makes use of the whole cocoa pod, including the frequently thrown-away husk, to produce chocolate that is more sustainable and healthier (since it replaces granulated sugar).

Chocolate's high fat and sugar content has a negative reputation. Consuming it has been linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, acne, and obesity.

Scientists have created a cocoa bean substitute by mashing the pulp and husk of the cocoa pod rather than just using the beans.

According to a report published in Nature Food, this sugar substitute can replace chocolate's sugar with a sweet and fibrous gel.

Dark chocolate is rich in minerals. Picture: Anete Lusina /Pexels

According to Kim Mishra, a food technologist at ETH Zurich and lead author of the study, chocolate is made from cocoa fruits, which are basically pumpkins, and right now are just seeds.

A significant amount of cocoa fruit is discarded during the conventional chocolate-making process as a result of the process focusing primarily on cocoa beans.

The researchers used the waste flesh and juice of the cocoa fruit to make a gel that can be added to chocolate instead of powdered crystalline sugar that is traditionally used.

According to Mishra, adding moisture to chocolate is generally not a good idea since it would basically ruin it. “We disregarded one of the most revered guidelines for creating chocolate.”

According to him, the findings might provide farmers with a new source of income while also making chocolate healthier and more sustainable, as the Guardian said.

The study discovered that in a lab, the new technology used 6% less land and water while increasing global warming emissions by 12% due to an additional drying stage that cost a lot of energy.

This not only generates a lot of trash but also has an impact on the environment because chocolate production is known to be resource-intensive and emits a lot of greenhouse gases.

Cocoa-fruit chocolate. Picture: Ákos Helgert /Pexels

The ETH researchers aimed to address these concerns by devising a way to incorporate the entire cocoa pod, including the husk, into the chocolate-making process.

ETH’s solution is cocoa-fruit chocolate

The husk, which is usually thrown away or turned into compost or fuel, has a lot of fibre and can be ground into a powder that can be used as a natural sweetener.

By combining this husk powder with a portion of the cocoa pulp, the team’s creative formula produces a delicious jelly that successfully substitutes the granulated sugar that is usually added to chocolate.

In addition to having less saturated fat and more fibre than regular chocolate, this cocoa-fruit chocolate also claims to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and land usage related to cocoa production.

In addition to its sweet taste, it also has improved nutritional value and less saturated fat, according to the study's findings.

When compared to the manufacture of typical European dark chocolate, the large-scale production of this new chocolate might dramatically reduce land use and the potential for global warming, according to a thorough life cycle evaluation carried out by the researchers.

This is mostly because fewer cocoa beans are required and the husk, which would normally be thrown away, is used.

This innovation has potential advantages that go beyond sustainability in the environment. This innovative approach could help small-scale farmers, who frequently struggle to make a livelihood from growing cocoa, by allowing them to diversify the products they sell.

They could increase their revenue while improving their standard of living by marketing not only the cocoa beans but also the recently created cocoa jelly powder.

Future of cocoa-fruit chocolate

It will take some time until the lab-based chocolate is available to consumers, even though it has been called “appealing and comparable in terms of flavour”.

The cocoa growers, who will require drying facilities to handle the husk, are the first in the queue for changes as the researchers attempt to scale up the production process and modify the entire value chain.

“There is an urgent need to transform the cocoa value chain addressing the nutritional and environmental problems while respecting the socio-economic boundary conditions,” the study found.