Can more be done to use the whole of the cocoa bean?

Posted by Dan Bennett on

We’d all like to know our chocolate was produced in an ethical, sustainable way, wouldn’t we? But what about the waste produced in the manufacturing process of our favourite food?

Chocolate is made through a series of complex and intriguing procedures, each adding an essential element to the end product. A wonderful, alchemical melting pot of fermentation, drying, roasting and conching – each process adding to the mix different characteristics determined by cacao type, varying drying times and roasting temperatures, humidity, climate, terroir and production.

We will do a future post on this fascinating transformation but for now we are interested in the bits that are left behind. Once roasted, the cocoa beans are ‘winnowed’ – cracked in a machine and separated into two parts. The nibs – this is the good stuff – little nuggets of pure cacao. These get ground to a paste, sugar is added (and milk powder in the case of milk chocolate) and are eventually turned into chocolate and cocoa powder. What remains is the by-product – the husk and inner shell.

World production of cocoa beans has been forecast at 4.15 million metric tonnes* this year - that’s a lot of raw material. And with husk and shell making up 12% of the bean this is a huge amount of waste product – one that is difficult to dispose of.

Chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut has filed a patent for a process to grind the husks to a powder with a view to this having various applications – as a substitute, as an inhibitor of fat bloom (when chocolate develops a whitish coating on its surface) and as an ingredient in its own right.

Other prospective uses are as follows: as a tea, an exfoliating skin treatment, a thickening agent, as animal feed, a source of dietary fibre, as a fertilizer and as bio-fuel**

One other potential use for the husk, and the main reason for us addressing the subject, is to use the husk in the manufacture of paper. When we first started looking at packaging for our amazing chocolate we wanted a really luxurious, high end finish. It was also important to us to use a British manufacturer. Finally, we wanted our packaging to be environmentally sound. We found all this and more at James Cropper. Based in the Lake District they are an award-winning family run business. Globally renowned, the 168-year-old mill produces a stunning range of paper made using the cocoa shell.

The ‘Cocoa’ range of paper relies on the natural colouring effects of the cacao and doesn’t use any artificial dyes. The colour palette was also perfectly suited to our needs with gorgeous, muted fruit tones. All the paper in the range contains 10% cocoa shell. This is delivered to the mill in pulpable bags so can be added straight into the paper-making process.

There are other initiatives utilising cocoa waste products such as stationery made from the pruned bark of the cacao and a cacao ‘jelly’ made from the fresh fruit of the cacao pulp. But the question is - Are you prepared to pay more for sustainable products and packaging like this?

 

*(ICCO Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLI, No. 3, Cocoa year 2014/15)
** Lucid Insight Resource Efficiency – “Lucid Snapshot – 16 uses for cocoa shells”

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