Ten Reasons Why “Whole Bean Chocolate” is a Profoundly Bad Idea (Though Not a New One)

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(10)  Cacao shells aren’t “people food.”  While they do have some nutritional value that has been exploitable in livestock feed products (e.g., crude protein and fat and a lot of insoluble dietary fiber), they are not regarded by any regulatory authority or by the chocolate industry as suitable for human consumption.  The giants of the chocolate industry have every incentive to monetize this byproduct, but have generally only been able to do so by selling it as mulch for agricultural use. 

(9)  “Whole bean chocolate” is not chocolate.  It is not and cannot be marketed as chocolate under US law.  Federal regulations limit cacao shell content in nib to 1.75% by weight (21 CFR 163.110(a)(1)).  (Shell typically accounts for 12-16% of the weight of dry cacao seeds.)  Internationally, the Federation of Cocoa Commerce limits shell content (in nib and mass) to 5%.  EU regulations and the Codex Alimentarius do not recognize cacao shell as a cocoa product for human consumption. 

(8)  Cacao shells collect pesticides.  Even if one naively assumes pristinely organic farming practices, dry cacao is almost always fumigated during storage and transportation, both to prevent loss from insect damage and to avoid importation of pest species.  These chemical contaminants are not eradicated by roasting, only by removing shell.

(7)  Cacao shells collect mineral oils.  Jute and sisal bags used to transport cacao are typically impregnated with mineral hydrocarbons, which can contaminate cacao shells.  In some growing regions, combustion products used around cacao (e.g., in drying) result in accumulation of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) in shells.  These chemical contaminants are not eradicated by roasting, only by removing shell.

(6)  Cacao shells collect microbial contaminants.  While Salmonella gets the most attention, contamination with E. coli and Staphyloccocus and Bacillus strains is common.  Some of these can be neutralized through adequate roasting, but shell removal through winnowing significantly reduces risk.

(5)  Cacao shells collect heavy metals.  Cacao shells have disproportionately high concentrations of harmful heavy metals—notably cadmium and lead, but also arsenic, copper, and silicium.  Roasting does not reduce heavy metal content of shells.

(4)  Cacao shells collect mycotoxins.  Ochratoxin A and aflatoxins accumulate disproportionately in cacao shells.  While molds may be killed in roasting, roasting does not significantly reduce the levels of mycotoxins accumulated in cacao shells.

(3)  Cacao shells aren’t just cacao shells.  Only about half of the thickness of what appears to be a dried cacao seed’s shell is actually shell.  The rest consists of dried dirt and pulp, combined with other environmental contaminants picked up during fermentation and drying.  (Drop a dried cacao seed in a glass of water, let it sit for a while, and see what sloughs off.)

(2)  Cacao shells destroy texture.  Cacao shells are tough and fibrous, resisting refining and homogenization of particle size necessary for a pleasantly smooth chocolate texture.  They also lead to abrasion of equipment surfaces, releasing grit from stone grinders into the cacao mass.

(1)  Cacao shells do not taste good.  This is not a point of controversy among those familiar with chocolate, nor has it ever been. Though he seems unaware of it, Paul Young isn’t the first person to try to foist cacao shells on the public.  Nearly a century ago, Robert Whymper (Cocoa and Chocolate: Their Chemistry and Manufacture) described cacao shells as useful only as an additive for cattle feed, as soil manure (i.e., mulch or fertilizer), or “for adding to cheap and inferior cocoa powders and chocolate.”  Contrary to Young’s ill-informed statement that, “Everyone shells just because that’s what they’ve been told,” science and industry have come a long way over the past century, with many detailed studies of the composition of shell, nutritional value of shell (for goats, pigs, and cows), health hazards posed by inadequate shell removal, etc.  But the consensus remains, as stated in Beckett’s 2009 edition of Industrial Chocolate Manufacture and Use, “Shell does not contribute positively to the flavor of the final product and may indeed produce off-flavors.”