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Science has come up with a recipe for healthier, more sustainable chocolate

When it comes to the food of tomorrow, the challenge for the industry is to offer sustainable products without obliging consumers to forego small pleasures, which then leaves them frustrated or disappointed

Published: Jun 27, 2024 04:14:40 PM IST
Updated: Jun 27, 2024 04:18:48 PM IST

Scientists have come up with a way to make healthier chocolate.
Image: Burcu Atalay Tankut/Getty ImagesScientists have come up with a way to make healthier chocolate. Image: Burcu Atalay Tankut/Getty Images

In Switzerland, researchers in Zurich have succeeded in optimizing the raw material of cocoa to create not only a chocolate that is healthier but that is also more environmentally friendly.

When it comes to the food of tomorrow, the challenge for the industry is to offer sustainable products without obliging consumers to forego small pleasures, which then leaves them frustrated or disappointed. In their latest Food 360 study for the SIAL world food innovation trade show in Paris, market research firm Kantar and analytics company Circana identified eating pleasure as an essential element in maintaining psychological well-being.

And for many, chocolate is clearly one of those little pleasures worth preserving. Earlier this year, in the run-up to Easter, cocoa prices were at a historic high. In March, a tonne of chocolate was selling for over $12,000, compared to around $2,500 for much of the last decade. One of the factors in this price rise was climate change. Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, the main suppliers of cocoa, have experienced torrential rains, which have caused disease in cocoa trees, as well as periods of drought.

Researchers have been working for many years on more ethical, eco-friendly ways of making chocolate. Just like Finnish scientists have developed a lab-based coffee,  researchers in Zurich have been using lab-grown cells to produce chocolate, avoiding the need to maintain cocoa plantations. Plant cells from cocoa beans were used as the basis for this chocolate of the future.

However, lab-made chocolate is not the only solution for future-proofing chocolate. Switzerland, renowned as a world-class chocolate producer, has been working on another approach for creating healthier, more sustainable chocolate. Also in Zurich, researchers have developed a method that transforms the pectin-rich cocoa pod endocarp into a gel. They use cocoa pulp juice concentrate to replace traditional sugar. This new chocolate formulation contains up to 20% of this gel, retaining a sweet taste comparable to traditional chocolate, while offering improved nutritional value thanks to a higher fiber content and a reduction in saturated fatty acids. In concrete terms, the chocolate has a higher fiber content than the average European dark chocolate (15 grams vs. 12 grams) and less saturated fat (23 grams vs. 33 grams).

Also see: Record cocoa prices and its bitter aftertaste


Published in the journal Nature Food, this study by a group of scientists at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH) also shows that if this form of chocolate were produced on a large scale, it could reduce land use and have a major impact on the industry's footprint compared with conventional dark chocolate production.