What Science Says About Cocoa Bean Shells

When you hear the words ‘cocoa beans’, you must think of something chocolatey and delicious, right?

Right. Well, you must know by now that cocoa is good for you because it contains a lot of antioxidants and minerals.

But, did you also know that cocoa bean shells, the by-product of cocoa beans, are also rich in antioxidants and are super nutritious?

Due to the high demand for chocolate, enormous amounts or cocoa beans are processed annually, reaching more than 4.7 million tons per year worldwide.

During the process for the production of cocoa and chocolate, the inner portion of the bean is roasted, leaving tons of shells as waste material.

Obviously, that’s a lot.

Cocoa bean shells are generally used as fuel or fertilizer, but an increasing number of studies are discussing their impressive nutritional properties, making them a potential functional ingredient.

Two recently published articles - a clinical study and a review of literature on cocoa bean shells - discuss their antioxidant content, nutritional profile, and dietary potential.

We’ve included the most important details below that might just make you love cocoa even more.

What’s Important

The nutritional profile of cocoa bean shells is quite rich.

They have a great amount of dietary fiber, even more than the cocoa bean itself.

They also have low-fat content, as well as numerous essential minerals, like magnesium, iron, and calcium.

The most notable compound, however, are the polyphenols, which give cocoa bean shells their antioxidant properties.

For these reasons, the attention towards cocoa bean shells has been gradually increasing.

Scientists have been trying to find the right way to turn them into a functional food ingredient and to make smart use of their nutritional content.

Cocoa Bean Shells Are Rich in Antioxidants

The aim of the clinical study was to examine the antioxidant content of cocoa bean shells and their potential to be used as a dietary ingredient.

They achieved this by creating hot beverages made from cocoa bean shells with added flavorings to complement the flavor, but also mask the slightly acidic taste of the shells.

The flavorings used were turmeric, curry, vanillin, rooibos, coconut, mint, cinnamon, and licorice.

They chose to use a familiar extraction method - teabags and capsules - and they presented the beverages to untrained tasters for subjective evaluation.

Later they examined the cocoa bean shells in vitro and assessed their antioxidant content.

Some Details

Generally, the consumers equally enjoyed both the tea and the capsule beverages. However, some flavorings were preferred over others.

When it came to the in vitro results, the different flavoring combinations, as well as the extraction methods, made a significant difference in the antioxidant content.

Here are the details on the consumer tests and in vitro analyses in brief: 

  • In terms of flavor, taste, and aroma, the combination of cocoa bean shells with coconut had the highest score, or in other words, it was preferred the most. It’s considered to have the highest potential of being commercialized;
  • The least favorite beverages were the formulations with turmeric and curry, and mint;
  • For the capsule method, the combinations with turmeric and curry, vanillin, and cinnamon and licorice, had the highest antioxidant content, followed by rooibos, mint, pure cocoa bean shells, and coconut;
  • On the other hand, when teabags were used, the combination with vanillin had the highest antioxidant content, followed by rooibos.
  • Other Nutritional Properties

    The review of literature on cocoa bean shells discusses their nutritional properties in-depth, so let’s see the most important details.

    Turns out, cocoa bean shells have a very similar profile to cocoa beans.

    However, their fat content is much lower, and their fiber content is much higher than that of cocoa beans.

    It was found that cocoa bean shells contain all the essential amino acids, as well as solid quantities of protein.

    The main fatty acids present in cocoa bean shells are oleic, palmitic, capric, and stearic acids.

    One impressive nutritional quality of cocoa bean shells is that they have high mineral content.

    Potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous are the most abundant, followed by sodium and iron, among others.

    They also have a considerable amount of vitamins B1 and B2, as well as vitamins B6, E, and D, which are found in trace amounts.

    Bottom Line

    It shouldn’t come as a surprise that cocoa bean shells are so nutritious.

    The efforts of scientists to find ways to commercialize their use is praise-worthy. It would be a shame to let all those nutrients go to waste.

    However, in vitro studies are not nearly enough to assess what happens in the human body, so the next logical step would be to see how these results would translate in vivo.


    1. Cantele, C.; Rojo-Poveda, O.; Bertolino, M.; Ghirardello, D.; Cardenia, V.; Barbosa-Pereira, L.; Zeppa, G. In Vitro Bioaccessibility and Functional Properties of Phenolic Compounds from Enriched Beverages Based on Cocoa Bean Shell. Foods 2020, 9, 715. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/foods9060715 
    2. Rojo-Poveda, O.; Barbosa-Pereira, L.; Zeppa, G.; Stévigny, C. Cocoa Bean Shell—A By-Product with Nutritional Properties and Biofunctional Potential. Nutrients 2020, 12, 1123. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12041123 


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