Damaged Beans

Cocoa beans from fruits damaged by fungus diseases (witches’ broom and black pod): a potential source of bioactive compounds and new products

Workgroup: Plant-based foods

Research Partner and Scientific Guidance:

  1. Fraunhofer Institut für Verfahrenstechnik und Verpackung IVV, Freising, Dominic Wimmer
  2. in cooperation with university Campina, Brazil

IGF: 347 EN
Financing: BMWK
Duration: 2023 – 2024

The cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, is native to Central and South America and its main product is the seeds, which are mainly used for chocolate production. However, cacao is affected by a number of pests and diseases that result in 30 % -40% crop losses worldwide. Despite all efforts, there is still no success in completely eliminating these diseases. Damaged cocoa fruits are either discarded, causing waste problems and contamination in the production area, or mixed with healthy fruit before the cocoa is further processed. This leads to a deterioration in the quality and taste of the chocolate products. However, for the production of other products, such as natural cosmetics and their ingredients, they represent a renewable and valuable raw material.

The aim of the "Damaged Beans" project is to establish new utilization routes for cocoa beans damaged by fungal diseases. The German-Brazilian consortium will develop specific methods to detect and classify different fungal contaminations and identify new applications for these cocoa beans. This approach has the potential to improve the entire cacao value chain by improving the working conditions and income of cacao farmers, increasing the quality of cacao products and providing the cosmetics industry with a greater supply of sustainable ingredients.

Cocoa butter has different melting behavior due to the chemical changes caused by fungal diseases and is therefore softer at room/body temperature. This is disadvantageous for chocolate production but can be beneficial for cosmetic applications. In addition, altered composition of amino acids and proteins increases gelling and thickening properties, which could make it an ideal substitute for acrylates. Finally, greater amounts of secondary plant substances (SPS) are formed, which have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties and may increase the stability and shelf life of cosmetic products.

In the first part of the project, rapid and cost-effective methods based on NIR spectral information in combination with chemometric tools will be developed. This will be used to determine the degree of damage to cocoa fruits and beans affected by fungal diseases and the physicochemical quality of the cocoa beans. Subsequently, a multi-stage cascade extraction process is established, which is specifically designed to fractionate damaged cocoa beans and obtain highly functional cocoa butter, proteins and SPS for the cosmetic and chemical industries. This may provide other highly functional ingredients in addition to cocoa butter, driving the substitution of fossil resources with natural ingredients. The potential applications and uses for butter, proteins and SPS from damaged cocoa beans are identified by means of a functionality spectrum.

The IGF project presented here by the Research Association of the Industrial Association for Food Technology and Packaging (IVLV e.V.) is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action via the AiF as part of the program for the promotion of industrial community research (IGF) based on a decision of the German Bundestag.