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From: FoodNews, April 16, 2010

 

By Neil Murry

There have been numerous research projects involving the cocoa bean but little is known about the mucilaginous white pulp surrounding the beans. iTi is funding a research project named "Total Phenolics and Antioxidant Capacity of Cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) Pulp: Investigation, Processing and Storage Study".

The primary objective of the project is to measure the total phenolic content and the antioxidant (ORAC) capacity of cocoa pulp and study effects of thermal processing (pasteurisation) as well as storage on phenolic content and antioxidant value.

"There has been a lot of research done on cocoa beans but little research has envisaged the beneficial effect of the pulp surrounding the beans," iTi's president, Gert Van Manen, said to FOODNEWS. "The research aims at looking into the antioxidant potential and the polyphenol content in this fruit."

As a secondary focus, Rutgers will monitor the colour of the pulp before and after processing and during storage. The success of this investigation will lead to increased value and marketability of the cocoa pulp. The possible utilisation of this by-product in other industrial processes can be considered as a diversification opportunity for the cocoa industry.

Cocoa's importance has grown as a significant source of polyphenols. Flavonoids are a group of polyphenolic compounds that occur widely in fruit, vegetables, tea, red wine, and chocolate. Cocoa and chocolate products have the highest concentration of flavonoids among commonly consumed food items. Over 10% of the weight of cocoa powder consists of flavonoids, catechin and epicatechin. The consumption of flavanol rich cocoa has been reported to have beneficial health effects, particularly reduction in the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Cocoa fruit (cocoa pod) varies in size, shape, external color and appearance. The mature fruit is thick walled and bears 30-40 beans, each enveloped in a white, sweet mucilaginous pulp and loosely attached to an axial placenta. The bean comprises an outer seed coat (testa) together with the mucilaginous pulp surrounding it and an inner embryo or cotyledons contained within.

Bernhard Frei of Quicornac said to FOODNEWS: "Basically cacao purée is a waste product, as the pulp is thrown away. The farmers use and keep the bean instead. So we have found an opportunity here. And we are sure it is a great one.

"We already made some processing batches and the initial reaction to the flavour and texture has been good so far. It blends very well, and it is actually quite tasty. Surprisingly, cacao pulp is very rich in flavonoids as well, so it is a superfruit. But it is all at an R&D level."

Potential applications

Van Manen added: "The pulp is aromatic and delicious and can be used in numerous products like sauces, beverages and smoothies. The fruit works very well in smoothies. The flavour is very mild (there is a lack of objectionable flavour) and thus blends very well with all beverages. We believe the flavour blends exceptionally well with mangosteen.

"Currently, at the iTi test kitchen, we have only made beverages but the opportunities are endless. Because of its aromatic properties and thick consistency it can find applications in sauces as well. We are trying more applications."

The unfermented cocoa pulp has indeed already found applications in juices, wines and marmalades, and cocoa pulp juice (drunk in Central and South America) is sold in the US to Hispanics, through specialist stores. In 2006, the president of Ecuador's Asociacion de Productores de Cacao Fino Y de Aroma (Aprocafa), started trying to find a means to market frozen cacao pulp in the EU (FOODNEWS 8 September 2006) but it is not believed that the product has been taken up commercially.

There is also a social issue to its commercialisation. Ecuador, like some other Latin American countries, has many social programmes attached to its agro-industry, and cacao is no exception. Frei said: "There is the possibility of an extra income for small farmers; part of the social responsibility programme that we are developing. It is a win-win for all, farmers and consumers."

The first report from the project will be published later in April.

 

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