Finding new uses for cacao pulp

29 Jul 2019

Cacao pulp, the fleshy white substance that surrounds cocoa beans, has long been considered a waste product of cocoa, but companies gradually have been finding other uses for it.

The latest case is particularly high-profile, as Nestlé has released a 70% dark chocolate bar in Japan under its KitKat brand, sweetened with nothing but cacao pulp. Its ingredients are entirely from the cacao fruit, including cacao pulp as a substitute for refined white sugar, and the company says it delivers “natural sweetness and subtle acidity”.

Finding new uses for cacao pulp
Cacao pulp is used on cocoa plantations for its juice or to make cacao liquor

While some cacao pulp is used in the fermentation process of cocoa beans, most is discarded. Considering that it is a labour-intensive process to remove the pulp – and that it has a naturally sweet and tangy flavour – it makes sense that it is not the first time a company has taken an interest cacao pulp as an ingredient. Back in 2013, Florida-based Agro Innova Co. launched Suavva, the world’s first commercial-scale juice smoothie with cacao pulp. Meanwhile, cocoa farmers and their families have long used the sweet pulp as a juice, or to make cacao wine or cacao liquor.

Another company, Cacao Juice, launched in 2018 in Pennsylvania, founded by a couple whose background included sourcing cocoa for some of the world’s biggest chocolate companies. They noticed the local habit of chewing the fleshy pulp while working the fields, and realised that the juice not only was refreshing and sweet, but also full of nutrients prized by health conscious western consumers.

New York-based Iris Naturals International takes a slightly different approach to these nutrients, providing cacao pulp powders and extracts, which make the most of compounds like caffeine, theobromine, polyphenols and flavonoids, which are found in cocoa beans, but also to a lesser extent in the pulp.

Cacao pulp is attractive to consumers for its nutritional and sweetening potential, but it also taps into a broader trend of looking to ingredient waste streams for ingredients that can be repurposed to add value to new products. Researchers have already suggested extracting nutrients from cocoa bean shells, which could be added to foods or beverages to boost their nutritional value. About 700,000 tonnes of cocoa bean shells are discarded each year when cocoa beans are roasted in chocolate production. And cocoa pod husk ash commonly is used in soft soap production and as a fertiliser.

Using cocoa by-products could also help food and beverage companies reach their waste reduction goals. Nestlé, for example, has pledged to cut food waste in its supply chain in half by 2030, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals – and hundreds of other companies have done the same.