Chocolate: what about the pulp?

Chocolate is massive. The global market for chocolate is over $80 billion each year, and there is no good reason for that figure to shrink anytime soon (Western University 2011). What I find particularly fascinating about chocolate is that it originates from one of two edible parts of the cacao fruit, yet very few people have heard about the other part. Inside a cacao fruit are the cacao seeds, and these are what can eventually be made into chocolate. Surrounding those seeds is a white pulp – the other edible part. Regarding this pulp, Maricel Presilla, author of ‘The New Taste of Chocolate’, described it as follows: “It had a refreshing sweet-tart flavour and a wonderful aromatic quality that today reminds me of lychees. If you ever taste fresh cacao fruit, you will understand what attracted people to it long before the discovery of chocolate” (Presilla 2009). More historically, “no South American people in pre-Columbian times ever made chocolate, or used the fruit for anything other than its sweet pulp” (Coe & Coe 1996).

This begs the question of how it is possible for one good to generate an $80 billion global market, while the good that literally surrounds it in its original form is virtually unknown. While there is no way to answer this question with absolute certainty, there are likely two main reasons why the cacao pulp has been ignored by westerners largely throughout history. The first and primary reason is that it is necessary to the chocolate making process, and once it is used in that process it is no longer fit for consuming in fruit form. The second reason is that the tree is only capable of growing is very specific climates, which do not include the climates of the western first world (Europe and the USA).

Chocolate is made from the seeds of the much larger cacao fruit. However, in order for these seeds to become the chocolate that we know, they must undergo arduous and labour-intensive processes in both harvesting and processing. Cacao fruits must first be chopped down from trees, broken open, and have the seeds inside removed, a process that is still completed by individual farmers (Coe & Coe 1996). Given the laboriousness of this process, cacao pulp has always been very popular among cacao farmers. Once the seeds are harvested they must be fermented and dried. Videos of these processes can be viewed below:

As mentioned previously, growing conditions are not fit for the western world, and thus historically transporting the large cacao fruits would have been far more laborious of a task than only transporting the beans. Presilla wrote, “Follow the equator, and you’ll find cacao. Because of its particular climactic requirements, cacao was fated to become a Third World crop” (Presilla 2009). Furthermore, chocolate is an incredibly unique type of food that was glamorised among populations in both Mesoamerica and Europe (Coe & Coe 2009). The elite enjoyed it and they had the means to make sure they acquired it, while the pulp was likely unfortunate in that it was comparable enough to other fruits to not be worth the hassle.

In 1753, Swedish naturalist Carl von Linne named the tree ‘Theobroma cacao’, which can be translated to mean “food of the gods” (Coe & Coe 1996). I found it pleasantly ironic that it was not only the cacoa seeds that received this name, but entire tree. For hundreds of years western society has been obsessed with the seeds of the cacao fruit, while leaving behind this delicious, nutritious fruit. Now that technology is catching up, it appears that western society will finally be able to experience the other part of the cacao fruit that has existed all along. Agro Innova has spent the last ten years fine-tuning its process of extracting and processing cacao pulp in order to produce a marketable fruit smoothie, and the final product, ‘Suavva’, has positioned itself well for market penetration (suavva.com). In November 2014 it won the award for ‘Best New Ingredient’ at ‘World Beverage Innovation Award Show’. Who knows, it might not be too long before cacao pulp has an $80 billion market of its own.

References:

Coe, Sophie D. and Michael D. Coe. 2013[1996]. The True History of Chocolate. 3nd edition. London: Thames & Hudson

“News & Press – Suavva.” Suavva News Press Comments. Agro Innova, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.

“The Business of Chocolate.” The Business of Chocolate. Western University, Oct. 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.

Multimedia:

Image of Suavva bottles: http://suavva.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/bottles1.png

Video of cacao harvesting: https://www.youtube.com/embed/-ivxbbm9Rmw

Video of cacao fermenting: https://www.youtube.com/embed/iyQQ90zQMhE

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