Upcycled Food Ingredient Series: Part One
About 500 cacao beans go into producing a pound of chocolate… but did you know that cacao is actually a fruit? What happens to the rest?
Well, typically not much. You may have seen creators eating the slimy, white-fleshed cacao fruit on TikTok and wondered what it could possibly taste like.
Cacao fruit, the vehicle for cocoa beans, is usually wasted in the manufacturing process – however, there are various uses for the fruit beyond just harvesting the cocoa beans.
Known for its citrus taste, cacao fruit contains many valuable nutrients, including theobromine, B6, thiamin, magnesium, antioxidants, flavonoids, and other phytonutrients. The fruit itself has a juicy, sweet white pulp with a sour undertone which can be eaten on its own or integrated into other foods. It was first domesticated over 4,000 years ago in Central America and Mexico.
Today, when processing the cacao plant, many farmers will cut down the fruit pod, remove the beans, and discard everything else. Sadly, this only translates to about 20 percent of the fruit being used for human consumption – the rest is usually food waste.
Chocolate processing requires fermentation, and some farmers will make use of the cacao plant’s pods as a vessel for some of that. This is great, as it maximizes the existing resources rather than utilizing new ones. Yet by and large, most cacao producers prioritize serving the existing market for beans instead of finding creative ways to valorize the fruit waste. Looking at some ways to upcycle some of these materials could go a long way in lowering chocolate production’s environmental impact.
The parts of the plant that include waste are cocoa pod husks, shells, and cocoa sweats (the pale liquid that seeps out during fermentation.) The opportunities for upcycling this fruit are enormous. We have partnered with Xoca Worldwide, who has developed an innovative syrup from cacao fruit with tons of uses.
Upcycling some of cacao’s byproducts can make a real difference in lessening the environmental impact. Each part of the plant is highly nutritious – so by eating more of the cacao plant, we can help to better the environment as well as our own health.
Beyond just upcycling the byproducts from the cocoa plant for food, residual cocoa biomass can be used as a fuel source. There are a variety of ways to extend the life of the cacao plant for productive use! Let’s put them into practice.