Chocolate that utilizes the full potential of the cocoa fruit

  • Food
  • June 15, 2024

Researchers from ETH Zurich have collaborated with the food industry to produce a chocolate variant with whole fruits. This helps increase the value creation of cocoa cultivation – and is healthier.

For many people, chocolate is a sweet pleasure: the main components are cocoa mass and cocoa butter, which are extracted from the cocoa fruit. What is less known, however, is that the cocoa fruit contains additional valuable ingredients that have remained underutilized until now. Researchers from ETH Zurich have joined forces with the chocolate industry to explore the possibilities for maximizing the use of the cocoa fruit, which would increase the profitability of cocoa farming and make chocolate a healthier treat. As part of an Innosuisse project, a research team led by ETH professor emeritus Erich Windhab collaborated with start-up Koa, which is committed to the sustainable cultivation of cocoa fruit, and Swiss chocolate manufacturer Felchlin to develop a recipe for cocoa fruit. to develop fruit chocolate. .

Finding the perfect recipe

Kim Mishra, lead author of the external pageNature Foodcall_madestudy, says that the cocoa fruit is similar to the honeydew melon: “These fruits have similar structures. Both have a hard outer shell that reveals the flesh when cut open, as well as the cocoa beans or melon seeds and pulp inside inland.” Conventional chocolate uses only the beans, but the researchers were able to use the pulp and parts of the fruit shell – or endocarp, to use the field-specific term – for their cocoa fruit chocolate recipe. They process it into powder and mix it with some of the pulp to make cocoa gel. This gel substance is extremely sweet and can replace the added powdered sugar that normally accompanies the chocolate experience.

However, it was not easy for the scientists to find the perfect recipe for cocoa fruit chocolate. In the laboratory they systematically tested the texture of different compositions. Too much fruit juice from the pulp resulted in a lumpy chocolate, but too little resulted in an insufficiently sweet product. The research team therefore tried to find the perfect balance between sweetness and texture. The problem with clumping does not occur when using powdered sugar. The experiments showed that chocolate can contain up to 20 percent gel, which corresponds to the sweetness of chocolate with 5 to 10 percent icing sugar. By comparison, conventional dark chocolate can easily contain between 30 and 40 percent powdered sugar.

To test the sensory experience of the new recipes, trained panelists from the Bern University of Applied Sciences tasted pieces of chocolate weighing 5 grams each, some containing different amounts of icing sugar and others containing the new variant sweetened with cocoa gel. “This allowed us to empirically determine the sweetness of our recipe, expressed in the equivalent amount of icing sugar,” says Mishra.

Healthy, sustainable and good for the farmers

Using cocoa gel as a sweetener, cocoa fruit chocolate has a higher fiber content than the average European dark chocolate (15 grams versus 12 grams per 100 grams). It also contains only 23 grams of saturated fat as opposed to the usual 33 grams. This means that ETH researchers were able to increase fiber content by about 20 percent and decrease the percentage of saturated fat by about 30 percent. “Fiber is valuable from a physiological perspective because it naturally regulates intestinal activity and prevents blood sugar levels from rising too quickly when consuming chocolate. Saturated fat can also pose a health risk if too much is consumed. There is a link between increased consumption of saturated fats and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” Mishra explains.

Small-scale farmers can diversify their product offering and increase their income if other components of the cocoa fruit can be marketed for chocolate production instead of just the beans. And if most of the fruit can be used for the production of cocoa fruit chocolate, only the peel remains, which is traditionally used as fuel or composting material. “This means that farmers can not only sell the beans, but also dry the juice from the pulp and endocarp, grind it into powder and sell that too,” Mishra explains. “This would allow them to generate income from three streams of value creation. And more value creation for the cocoa fruit makes it more sustainable.”

However, this does not mean that cocoa fruit chocolate will be on supermarket shelves anytime soon. “While we have shown that our chocolate is attractive and has a similar sensory experience to regular chocolate, the entire value creation chain will need to be adapted, starting with the cocoa farmers, who will need drying facilities,” says Mishra. “Cocoa fruit chocolate cannot be produced and sold on a large scale by chocolate manufacturers until sufficient powder is produced by food processing companies.” The first step has been taken: ETH has applied for a patent on its recipe for cocoa fruit chocolate. The development of cocoa fruit chocolate is a promising example of how technology, nutrition, ecological compatibility and income diversification for smallholder farmers can all work together to improve the entire value creation chain of the cocoa plant.

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