16 February 2011

Chocolate crisis looms

The news that the supply of cocoa beans, which are used to manufacture chocolate, is in danger of drying up, sends shivers down the spines of all chocoholics.


The world is facing a potential "chocolate drought". The news that the supply of cocoa beans, which are used to manufacture chocolate, is in danger of drying up, sends shivers down the spines of all chocoholics.

Imagine a world without chocolate! It would be a sad place indeed. Our post-modern world is in any case not exactly merry at the moment with the recession, climate change, natural disasters, revolutions and wars spreading doom and gloom. Take away our little treats like chocolate and that warm mug of cocoa when it is freezing, and most people would feel that Armageddon is at hand.

Threats to chocolate and cocoa production

The prophets of chocolate doom predict that the world’s supply of sustainable cocoa could run out by 2014 (Society’s Child, 2011). According to an article published on the internet, Angus Kennedy, the editor of Kennedy’s Confection and a leading British chocolatier, has made this dire prediction.

Various factors are cited as the causes of the decrease in cocoa bean availability which in turn will lead to disappearance of chocolate from our supermarkets. The political unrest in the Ivory Coast which produces 40% of the world’s cocoa beans, has according to Kennedy already "significantly depleted the number of cocoa farmers". In January 2011, the price of cocoa beans increased by 10% and economists predict that a metric tonne of the beans could soon cost $3 720, a price last experienced in January 1979.

In addition to political upheavals that affect the production of cocoa beans, the cocoa plant is also vulnerable to two diseases, black pod diseases in Africa and witch’s broom in Brazil. The latter infestation is a fungus that affects the cocoa plants and caused disruptions in supply in the 1990s (Trader Tech, 2011).

The world supply of cocoa beans is thus facing serious threats which also endanger the quantity of chocolate that will be available to consumers.

The nutritional perspective

Readers probably expect me, as a nutritionist, to applaud the chocolate drought. After all chocolate is high in kilojoules and fat, it can cause addiction and it leads most people astray with its delicious taste and smooth texture. But as a pragmatist who realises that people do need some pleasure in life, I do not rejoice in the impending chocolate slump. 


Various research studies have shown that chocolate, when eaten in moderation, can make  positive contributions to health. In 2005, Science Daily reported the results of a study conducted by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to determine the total antioxidant capacity (TAC) and procyanidin levels of 6 chocolate and cocoa products. Cocoa beans contain large quantities of antioxidants called flavonoids. These antioxidants are regarded as protective against cancer, heart disease and stroke.

As expected, the ARS research study found that natural cocoa powder contained the highest levels of antioxidants and procyanidin. Products made from cocoa powder also contained these protective substances, but at lower levels. Milk chocolates, which contain the lowest quantities of cocoa solids had the lowest TAC and procyanidin content. White chocolate which is made without cocoa powder, does not have a high TAC or contain procyanidin.

Post-2005 the public were thus advised to eat dark chocolate with a high cocoa powder content and chocolate manufacturers started listing cocoa powder percentages on their product labels.

Subsequently  researchers at the University of L’Aquila in Italy, surprised the world by publishing their findings that eating 100g of dark chocolate every day for 15 days lowered blood pressure and improved blood glucose levels. These positive dietary effects were attributed to the flavonoids (antioxidants) in the chocolate that help to combat the damaging effects of free radicals (BBC News, 2005).

Researchers did sound a warning that these findings do not give carte blanche to patients with degenerative diseases (heart disease, obesity, diabetes, hypertension) to start eating 100g slabs of chocolate every day. Health experts point out that despite the beneficial antioxidant content, chocolate contains high levels of fat and is loaded with kilojoules.

According to the SA Food Composition Tables (2010), even dark, bittersweet chocolate contains 2300 kJ and 30.5 g of fat per 100g. Any woman on a slimming diet who eats a whole 100g slab of such chocolate will have consumed 36.5% of her daily energy requirement and her entire daily fat allowance in one session!

Pleasure also plays a role

So why do I, as a nutritionist, mourn the potential disappearance of the world’s chocolate supply? While it is always essential to stick to prudent dietary habits, the pleasure of eating one or two squares (10g) of dark chocolate can make life a little easier to handle. Chocolate also contains serotonin, endorphins and phenylethylamine. These chemicals can improve your mood and alleviate depression. I am, therefore, not opposed to chocolate provided you eat moderate quantities and do not go overboard. Diabetics need to discuss chocolate intake with their dieticians to determine what portions are allowed and when they can be eaten to fit in with their diabetic diet prescription.

Let’s hope that chocolates don’t become worth their weight in gold, because the world would be a sadder place without the special taste and that lift that good chocolate gives to our mood.

Enjoy your Valentine’s Day and have a little chocolate treat while you still can!

- (Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, 14 February 2011)                                                      


(BBC News (2005). Chocolate ‘has health benefits’.; Science Daily (2005). In chocolate, more cocoa means higher antioxidant capacity. ; Society’s Child (2011). Will there be a chocolate drought? World’s supply of sustainable cocoa could run dry by 2014.; Trader Tech (2011). Cocoa trading supply.; Wolmarans P et al (2010). Condensed Food Composition Tables for SA. MRC, Parow Valley, Cape Town.

(Images: iStock)

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Chocolate is a 'super fruit'
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