The chocolate, an undoubted source of pleasure and also an evident nutritional contribution, also hides elements that are harmful to health, according to research carried out by scientists from the University of Missouri. That item is the cadmium, which has been known for a long time to be present in cocoa, but about which more information and new data have now been obtained. The problem is also economic, because the latest restrictions imposed by the EU may compromise the future of thousands of small farms in the southern countries, which supply this food.
The investigations carried out so far in relation to the presence of cadmium in cocoa had given disparate results, but a new study carried out by the aforementioned university has analyzed, above all, the soil factors that influence the transfer of cadmium from the ground to cocoa beans. The object of this research is to minimize said absorption through feasible and profitable procedures for farmers.
After analyzing thousands of data on cocoa crops around the world obtained in previous studies, the scientists discovered that “it is the total amount of cadmium in the soil and the PH that explains the amount of this element that ends up in the cocoa bean”noted Professor Andrew Margenot.
“It seems like a very simplistic explanation, but it is consistent with soil chemistry theory. When you get to more acidic PH values, the cadmium is more soluble and more available to the plant,” he added.
This research comes just when there is more reason than ever to keep cadmium levels low in this and other foods.
The EU reduces the amount allowed
The latest European Union regulations limit cadmium to amounts between 0.1 and 0.8 milligrams per kilo, depending on the cocoa product. Margento says the standard is forcing many companies to limit imports from cocoa-producing regions from the south, where soils are typically rich in heavy metals.
Although the cadmium problem is somewhat recognized, EU regulation is an economic threat to eight million small farmers for whom cocoa is an important crop for their subsistence.
Much of the cocoa that is produced comes from small farms of reduced size.
Margenot noted that “these farmers can make $1,000 a year if they’re lucky. Reducing heavy metals is something that is out of your reach”.
But there could be an easier and simpler solution to reduce the presence of this worrying element of nature: “After discovering that the PH of the soil and the total amount of cadmium are the most important factors for the presence of this element in cocoa , we are getting evidence that lime can be a mitigation measure”, explained the teacher.
Liming soils reduces acidity, which makes cadmium less soluble and harder for plants to infiltrate. However, Margenot admits that Liming does not necessarily have to be affordable or easy for Amazonian farmers either.given that in that part of the world lime is not a common product nor is it usually found in stores.
Despite this challenge, scientists consider that lime generally increases cocoa yield and, given the benefits it would generate, may end up offsetting the extra costs that generates its use.
It all depends on the amount ingested
However, the authors of the study point out that the presence of cadmium in chocolate can only be dangerous in case of consuming large amounts of this product. “I have eaten cocoa beans from farms in Ecuador without hesitation. It takes a lot of chocolate to reach dangerous levels for adults. I think it’s fair to say that people shouldn’t stop eating chocolate,” Margenot said.
In addition, the danger decreases even more in the case of consuming milk chocolate, where cocoa has a much smaller presence. But even in the case of dark chocolate, which is almost 100% cocoa, the risks are still small unless amounts are eaten regularly, he adds.
Reference study (in English): https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0261989
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