The growing concern for Cadmium in Chocolate
In the United States the discussion surrounding Cadmium in chocolate has taken center stage again. This is due to a recent Consumer Report on metals that can be found in dark chocolate. Instead of asking ourselves fun and flavorful questions: Is that a hint of nutmeg in my 70% chocolate? Or how does this 85% chocolate taste like wine and citrus? Many have found themselves asking Is there too much metal in this dark chocolate?
Since 2006 the EU has been keeping an eye on cadmium in chocolate, finally putting in place specific regulation in 2019 with these regulations directly affecting cacao producing countries and communities all over Latin America.
“According to the scientific opinion on cadmium in food of the CONTAM Panel, the food groups that contribute to the major part of the dietary cadmium exposure, primarily because of the high consumption, are cereals and cereals products, vegetables, nuts and pulses, starchy roots or potatoes and meat and meat products. Highest cadmium concentrations were detected in the food commodities seaweed, fish and seafood, chocolate and foods for special dietary uses as well as in fungi, oilseeds and edible offal.”
In our home country of Ecuador, the INIAP (National Institute of Agricultural Research) continues to study cadmium impacts on cacaoteros all over the country. The hope is to better understand cadmium increments in soil and which provinces contain higher sources of it.
What are we to do about Cadmium?
Conexion Chocolate has been following scientific reports and governmental policies. This is in order to mitigate risks and respond with proper precaution for our customers and producers.
In 2019 we did a register of different cacao provinces to understand the levels of cadmium and to select the areas we could work with and define the type of products we could develop with each region as well as define formulations.
With each province we defined the type of product that it could produce. We found that some regions were better suited to produce cacao derivatives and some regions were more apt for our couvertures. We decided based not only on flavor profiles, but also on the amount of cadmium in cacao and chocolate. Because cadmium levels are found in cacao solids, we also offer different formulas for our chocolate which may include cacao butter, sugarcane, and milk. These mixes ensure lower percentages of cadmium in our chocolate.
Testing for Cadmium in Cacao and Chocolate
We already have in place processes that we continue to improve to track for cadmium in our products. We began in one province and particularly for our derivatives, but we will begin implementing test analysis across all of our products this coming year.
It starts with our selection of cacao batches
It is important to note that starting with low cadmium cacao beans helps ensure that the chocolate will comply with the low cadmium requirements. This is why we work closely with our cacao cooperatives and partners when collecting the cacao batch. When we meet with our producers we regularly remind them of the growing concern for metals such as cadmium, and inform them on ways to reduce cadmium in the soil. We talk with field technicians about strategies to decrease cadmium. This can be done by introducing zinc in the soil and adding organic matter such as compost and bocachi. These organic amendments are low in cadmium and play a fundamental role in reducing cadmium in soil.
Sampling and Analysis
From our cacao batches we randomly select a large sample of cacao beans from different bags and transform it into liquor. We then send this cacao liquor sample for a cadmium analysis. We work closely with international labs that comply with the EU analysis methods. When we receive a positive result we continue with the production. Otherwise we proceed to select a different batch for production.
We proceed to formulate and produce our chocolate couvertures and derivatives to the utmost standards.
- Chocolate Couvertures: Also known as baking chocolate is our specialty product. We strive to make the best baking chocolate for professionals and this includes our processes on flavors, traceability, and ethical sourcing. In the coming year we will be including cadmium testing for these products.
- Cacao Derivatives: Cacao derivatives produced by Conexion include cacao powder and cacao butter. Cacao powder is the most sensitive product as it will have all the concentration of the cacao mass where the cadmium is found. Here the levels of cadmium will be most concentrated and will double in some cases. We follow the EU regulation which limits cacao powder to 0,6 mg/kg. Cacao Butter on the other hand, contains imperceptible amounts of cadmium as the metals are only found in the cacao solids.
Educating about Cacao and Chocolate
Just as important as our efforts to reduce cadmium in our products, we believe that educating producers and consumers alike on cacao and chocolate is critical in improving relations and understanding of risks and its mitigation. Jenny Samaniego, owner and founder of Conexion Chocolate has worked hard to promote the investigation and studies of Cadmium in Ecuador and worldwide in our Cacao and Chocolate Summit.
“We prioritize having experts from different fields talk about Cadmium and the impacts that this has on cacao producing countries, small scale cacao growers, and in regards to the economic impacts and potential risks,” says Jenny. “We are passionate about creating a more ethical and sustainable chocolate industry for everyone involved in the supply chain. The only way to do that is to promote and share education to the most marginalized sectors in the industry. We seek to know their needs and hear their voices. A fair living income allows producers to have dignified lives. We promote this in the cacao and chocolate summit that reaches small producers from all over the world free of cost, thanks to our sponsors.”
Finally, here are just a few reminders of how cadmium is measured and where it is found so that you can eat chocolate worry-free.
- Cadmium is found in the solids of cacao. In other words, derivatives such as cacao butter do not contain cadmium. This is important because chocolate is not made of only cacao solids but also can contain things like sugar, milk, and cacao butter which will reduce the amount of cadmium in the finished product.
- Cadmium is not an added ingredient, but is found in the ground naturally. Some regions have higher quantities of heavy metals than others, and producers and chocolate makers are working hard to reduce the amounts of cadmium in the soil.
- While there is a lot of concern about cadmium it is also important for customers to understand that cacao is not the only industry impacted by traces of cadmium. Potatoes, cereals, breads, legumes, nuts, and vegetables all contain cadmium. While this does not minimize the importance of reducing it in our product, it is important for people to understand that this is impacting the agricultural industry as a whole and many of the foods we regularly consume, not just chocolate.
Here is a short but enlightening post on cadmium by Sharon, the Chocolate Journalist Should you freak out about Cadmium and Lead in chocolate? This post sheds light on the concern for cadmium in chocolate.
While the United States currently has no restrictions on cadmium in cacao or chocolate, we understand that there is a growing concern about its impacts in our industry. That is why we are continuing to expand when and where we test for cadmium. We are expanding these practices to all our products. Nonetheless, it is important to stress that because cadmium is a naturally occurring phenomenon found in soils across the globe and impacting nearly all products in the agriculture industry, it is a step by step process. We will continue to follow the science and respond with careful consideration for the safety of our products.
For chocolate consumers, the risk of high levels of cadmium consumption reduces even further because chocolate is only one of other ingredients in making the final product you eat. This fact significantly reduces the amount of cadmium that could be presented to your customers. Here at Conexion, we continue to comply with the highest standards and are sensitive to the impacts that cadmium concern has on the economy of small scale cacao producing families. We work hard to find solutions that are good for our customers, as well as our producers that depend on this income to sustain their families, bring food to the table, educate their children, and so much more. We invite you to be part of that effort by getting in touch with us about our couvertures, derivatives, and educational programs.