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Beyond the Bean- The Many Uses of the Cacao Tree

Chocolate giant Barry Callebaut recently filed for a patent for a new process to grind cacao shells into a powder.

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The new Callebaut process involves washing the shells numerous times, drying and then alkalizing them. They are then dried again and then pulverized. This shell powder is lower in fat (2-6% of dry weight) compared to about 50% in the whole bean, and lower in theobromine and caffeine, too. It does have, however, increased flavanol (beneficial nutrients) and fiber content. It visually looks very much like traditional cocoa, and could then be used as a cocoa replacer, fat bloom inhibitor and ingredients to be used in other foods.

Apparently, this idea isn’t new to new to the chocolate manufacturing scene. However it may become more common on a grand scale. (I’m not certain how I would feel about this new product being used as filler in my chocolate. It would need to be listed in the ingredients). It’ll be interesting to see how extensive this will be used in the chocolate industry.

Other uses for the shells include garden mulch, and for an energy source to heat some cocoa manufacturing plants. They are also sometimes crushed to extract any residual cocoa butter. Chocolate tea can also be found made with cocoa shells.

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It’s the Bean, Baby

The cacao tree is a tropical evergreen tree found under specific conditions within 10-20 degrees north and south of the equator. We’re all too familiar with the dietary uses of the cocoa bean: delectable chocolates and rich cocoa powder. However, there are many other uses of this important understory tree.

About 50% of the cacao bean is made up of cocoa butter. This unique vegetable fat, which is solid and room temperature, is used in pharmaceuticals for encapsulating drugs and making suppositories. It is also used extensively in the cosmetic industry in soaps, skin car and its unique properties claim to remove even scars.

Pod Husks

The cocoa pod husk, accounts for about 76% of cacao fruit by weight. The cacao industry produces over 44 million tons of husk waste per year and this amount only seems to be increasing.

In 2012, Brazilian researchers began looking at the feasibility of extracting pectin from these husks. Pectin is a natural substance found in fruit and is probably best known for its gelling property. It is also used in fillings, medicines, sweets, as a stabilizer in fruit juices and milk drinks, and as a source of . Industrial dietary fiber use of pectin is in high demand, so this would not only be a wonderful additional source, but the solution to an increasing waste management problem.

Cocoa husks are also used for animal feed. After drying in a field for 1-2 weeks, the husks are then incinerated with the resulting ash being used to make soap

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Cocoa Pulp

When a pod is cracked open, one of the most striking feature is cacao pulp, the cream colored coating covering the raw beans in the cacao pod. In South America, baba de cacao is the name given to this sweet, mucilaginous pulp that encloses the 30 to 50 large seeds found in a cacao pod. It is made into an alcoholic beverage and has been enjoyed by indigenous people for centuries. Fresh cocoa pulp juice (sweatings) is also used in soft drinks in some tropical countries. For a unique chocolate experience, check out a bitter bar one manufactured with raisins and cocoa pulp by Claudio Corrallo from beans grown on islands off the coast of the Congo.

Leaves

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Cacao leaves are evergreen and can be up to 16 inches long and almost 8 inches wide. Leaf litter under the trees creates habitat for the main pollinator of cacao, the humble midge. Traditionally we’ve only found reports of cacao leaves being used medicinally for listlessness, snakebites, and as a diuretic in S. America.

Recently on a to Sandpoint, ID, I discovered another use of these leaves! Eangee Home Design has a beautiful collection of lighting fixtures featuring different natural products, including cacao leaves.

Waste to Fuel

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Leave it to the Brits to develop a race car that has components made from carrots, soy, and potatoes and that is fueled by chocolate waste and vegetable oil. The name of the vehicle, World First 3, is named after the organization and the fact that it is a Formula 3 racer. World First’s purpose is to show that it is indeed possible to make a competitive racing car using sustainable and renewable materials.

Food


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