Cocoa is the fruit of the ‘Cacao Tree’. On harvest season, once the fruits ripen, the pods are collected carrying on the inside the pulp with the seeds that will be transformed into cocoa beans through a long process of fermentation, drying, cleaning, roasting, winnowing, and grinding to then obtain the famous cocoa liquor and butter for producing chocolate and other byproducts.
Long regarded as a food treat, many believe that cocoa is limited to the production of chocolate, however, cocoa has got much more to offer, not only as a food treat but also as a medicine. Modern research has revealed that cocoa does indeed contain important components that can benefit our health, depending on the form in which it is taken (i.e., as an infusion, a dark chocolate bar, nibs, etc.) the benefits will vary. Furthermore, the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO) has also set out the different products that can derive from the cocoa pod, and the benefits are said to be numerous.
Cocoa Health Benefits
Rich in polyphenols, the natural occurring antioxidants are found in different foods including chocolate, the main cocoa byproduct. These polyphenols are believed to bring many benefits and as they are abundant in cocoa, the intake of dark chocolate (due to its higher percentage of cocoa) can have a positive impact on the heart by reducing blood pressure and the risk of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). Likewise, cocoa polyphenols are said to offer anti-inflammatory properties, promote better blood flow, improve cholesterol and even blood sugar levels. However, in order to make the most of these benefits, consumers must ensure that the cocoa intake must be with unprocessed cocoa since during the process of chocolate making, many flavanols are reduced as well as the benefits.
Brain Booster: according to several studies, it has been claimed that cocoa polyphenols found on dark chocolate and cocoa powder can also improve brain function, improving cognitive function and reduce the risk of suffering neurodegenerative disease.
Mood Booster: chocolate intake has been linked for years to a happiness increase and a formal study conducted by Gettysburg College in the USA proved that chocolate can indeed increase the ‘positive mood’ in participants so long they consume it mindfully. So, all in all chocolate can make us happier!
Weight Control Aid: it may sound surprising, however, according to different studies cocoa intake even in the form of dark chocolate, may help controlling your weight. From the study, a group was fed with a low-cab diet plus a portion of 81% cocoa content dark chocolate, whereas the other group was only fed with a low-carb diet. It was proved that the group who took the chocolate serving showed the easiest and most successful weight loss. Furthermore, studies have demonstrated that polyphenols found in cocoa are reported to regulate lipid metabolism. Therefore, cocoa products rich in polyphenols may diminish obesity and other metabolic diseases by different mechanisms.
Apart from the many health benefits cocoa can offer, we can also benefit from a multiple range or products which can be derived from cocoa pods, if we know how to make the most of them.
According to the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO), many products can derive form cocoa, from the external shell or husk to the pulp (mucilage), sweating and even the bean shells, many byproducts can be made, not just cocoa liquor, butter or powder and the beloved chocolate!
Animal Food: Cocoa husks are a source for animal feed by using 100% dried husks. The husks are sliced into tiny flakes, they are then dried, minced and pelleted. They’re a good source for feeding sheep and goats.
Alcoholic Drinks: in the production of alcoholic drinks, fresh cocoa juice (sweatings) is collected, properly sterilised and bottled. For brandy preparation, the cocoa sweatings are collected, boiled, culled and then fermented using yeast, with four days the alcohol is ready and distilled!
Soap: by using cocoa potash from the husk, soft soap can be made.
Fertiliser: cocoa husks in the form oaf ash may also be used as fertiliser for cocoa, and other food crops. To prepare the ash, fresh husks are scattered under the sun for two weeks and then incinerated.
Jam and marmalade: Pectin used for jam and marmalade production is extracted from the cocoa sweatings by precipitation with alcohol, followed by distillation and recycling of the alcohol.
Compost: Cocoa bean shells can be used as organic compost and soil conditioner for the garden.
At Giveafew, we want to acknowledge the many benefits and by-products cocoa can offer and that is why we believe that any efforts put into helping cocoa communities thrive will help continue accessing this great natural crop which offers a wide range of benefits!
Adomako, D., Non-traditional uses of cocoa in Ghana. Eighth meeting of the Advisory Group on the World Cocoa Economy, 26th-30th June 1995, Yaounde, Cameroon, pp.79-85. ICCO, 1995
The cocoa manual. A guide to de Zaan's cocoa products. Cacao de Zaan, 1993
Cocoa shell - Garden mulch and soil conditioner. Brochure from Sunshine of Africa (UK) Ltd, 2pp, 1998