How swiss innovation is making chocolate healthier and more sustainable

Scientists at ETH Zurich have developed a healthier and more sustainable chocolate using the entire cocoa fruit, including the shell: this innovation promises to reduce environmental impact and increase farmers' income

In a groundbreaking development, researchers at ETH Zurich have revolutionized chocolate making, introducing a new form of the treat that could permanently alter the industry. Unlike the fantastical methods found in children’s stories—no Oompa Loompas or chocolate rivers here—this innovation utilizes every part of the cocoa fruit, significantly reducing waste and boosting farmers’ incomes.

Typically, only the cocoa seeds and pulp are used in chocolate production. However, ETH researchers have discovered that the cocoa pod’s shell can also be utilized, substituting granulated sugar. Their novel recipe incorporates the endocarp, the fruit’s inner shell layer, mixed with some of the pulp surrounding the seeds to create a sweet cocoa gel.

Kim Mishra, the lead author of the study published in Nature Food, elaborates:

“This means that farmers can not only sell the seeds but also dry the pulp and endocarp juice, grind it into a powder, and sell it. This could enable them to generate revenue from three value streams. And the more value created from the cocoa fruit, the more sustainable it becomes.”

The production of the new swiss chocolate

Creating a perfect recipe for a beloved food like chocolate requires extensive experimentation. Scientists at ETH, in collaboration with startup Koa and Swiss chocolate maker Felchlin, have found that the product can contain up to 20% cocoa gel, matching the sweetness of conventional chocolate that typically contains about 5-10% added sugar. Regular dark chocolate can contain about 40% powdered sugar.

According to the researchers, the new fruit-based chocolate is healthier due to its higher fiber content and reduced saturated fat percentage. A life cycle assessment from cradle to factory shows that large-scale production of this chocolate could decrease land use and global warming potential compared to typical European dark chocolate production. Land use change due to agriculture accounts for over 70% of the environmental impacts for all types of chocolate. By using fewer cocoa seeds and thus less land, lab-made chocolate is linked to lower “agricultural impacts.”

The new formulation is also lighter on the environment in other ways, as it utilizes parts of the cocoa pod that would otherwise be wasted. Only the shell remains, traditionally used as fuel or compost material. Additionally, incorporating the endocarp allows small farmers to diversify their product offerings and increase their incomes. However, the road ahead is long, according to Mishra:

“There’s still a long way to go before this more economical form of chocolate hits the shelves. Although we have demonstrated that our chocolate is appealing and offers a sensory experience comparable to normal chocolate, the entire value chain will need to be adjusted, starting with the cocoa farmers, who will need drying facilities. Cocoa fruit chocolate can only be produced and sold on a large scale by chocolate manufacturers once enough powder is produced by food processing companies.”

Nonetheless, a significant first step has been taken: ETH has filed a patent for its cocoa fruit chocolate recipe.

Source: ETH Zurich

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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