5 Ways You Can Use Cacao (Cocoa) Husks

Source: PuraVida

‘Food of the gods’ – is a title held by the seed of an unsuspecting fruit, the cacao bean. Cacao has a cherished place in societies worldwide, being used to create one of the most beloved and iconic indulgences that unite all – chocolate.

But did you know that chocolate is surprisingly not made from the entire cacao bean?

The chocolate we are ever so familiar with is made from a specific part of the bean – the cacao nibs. These nibs can be thought of as the innards of the cacao bean that are only accessible after removing an outer protective layer – also known as the cacao husk

And while this by-product of cacao processing is commonly considered a waste product, recent studies into the derivative have found that the husks are very much consumable, having potential health benefits

But how? Lets find out shall we!

 Cacao vs Cocoa

Source: Healthline

Starting from the beginning with the simplest question – “Cacao or Cocoa?” – which term should you use when typing into the Google search bar.

While often used interchangeably, the two terms do not actually have the same meaning and represent the cacao bean – or seed – at different stages of its “lifecycle”. The term ‘Cacao’ refers the raw, unprocessed form of the bean (directly after harvesting) while ‘Cocoa’ refers to the processed form of the bean. Cacao can thus be considered the natural and less-processed form of cocoa.

Source: Anarchy Chocolate
Cacao beans can be fermented in various ways and typically occurs around 21-28°C at a higher humidity of ~80-90%. These conditions are optimal for the growth of fermenting bacteria

The production of cocoa from cacao is a multi-stage process that begins with the fermenting, sun-drying and roasting of the cacao beans. These initial steps are essential in the development of the cocoa flavor, while reducing the polyphenol content of the bean – chemical compounds which are responsible for the intense bitterness of unprocessed beans.

Winnowing occurs after the initial processing steps and involves the removal of the outer layer of the cacao beans, resulting in the production of the cacao husks. The remaining meat of the cacao beans – also known as the cacao nibs – are then further processed into cocoa powder and ultimately used for chocolate production.

Cacao is sometimes considered to be healthier than cocoa as the unprocessed form of the bean contains larger amounts of nutritionally-important compounds such as antioxidants, minerals and fiber that are contained within the cacao husk.

Cacao Husk vs Shell

Cacao husks may also be referred to as either the cacao shell or hull, with the terms often being used interchangeably. The meanings of the terminology used are often dependent on the context of usage where:

  • During harvesting (before processing) – the term ‘cacao pod husk’ is used to describe the outer pod covering that is removed for the extraction and harvesting of the individual cacao beans.
  • During processing (individual cacao beans) – the terms ‘husk, hull & shell’ are used interchangeably to describe the outer layer of the cacao bean removed during winnowing.
Source: NCBI
The chemical compositions of the various by-products of cocoa production, namely cacao husks and cacao bean shell

Both cacao pod husks (labeled as cocoa husks) and cacao bean husks (labeled as cocoa bean shell) have also been shown to have comparable chemical compositions, containing largely similar nutritionally-important compounds – including antioxidants, minerals, and dietary fibre

What are the nutritional benefits of cacao husks?

Both forms of cacao husks contain several bioactive compounds that are commonly considered “good for your health”. These compounds include:

Source: Food Revolution Network
Common natural sources of antioxidants

Antioxidants – compounds that protect the body from harmful naturally occurring chemical reactions. Potential health benefits linked to the compounds include reduced risks of disease onset (such as cancers, diabetes & heart disease) and inflammation. Some antioxidants that can be found within husks are phytosterols and polyphenols (also commonly found in plant-based foods like nuts, seeds and whole grains).

Obtaining your antioxidants from natural food sources, as opposed to supplements, is often considered the ideal option to prevent excessive intake which could have adverse effects.

Minerals – minerals are an important component of our diet which influences almost every body function from digestion to muscle building to fighting infections. Minerals which hold greater biological importance include magnesium, zinc and copper.

Source: Super Good Stuff
The different minerals and how they can benefit our body alongside their related vitamins

Cacao husks are not only a good source of the aforementioned minerals but other important ones such as potassium (often associated with the banana) and calcium (often associated with milk).

Source: Constituents-of-Cocoa-Husks
An analysis of the nutritional properties of cacao husks to determine its potential as an alternative source of dietary minerals.

Dietary fibre – having an appropriate amount of dietary fibre (~20-30g/day) daily is not only important for your gut health, but for your heart and glucose control. Cacao husks provide a good balance of both insoluble and soluble fibres – which have their unique benefits.

Source: Wise Mind Nutrition

These husks have been proven to have a high total dietary fibre content, where the amount of fibre constitutes to  ~50% of the husk’s dry weight.

What happens to the Cacao Husks after processing?

The rising interest in the sustainable usage of cacao husks can be attributed to the environmental effects that have been linked to the disposal of these by-products. Treated as waste, the husks are often disposed on cacao farms to naturally decay due to their relatively harmless nature

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The various contributors of climate change & their extent of impact

Unfortunately, the natural degradation of the husks by bacteria results in the generation of methane and carbon dioxidepotent greenhouse gasses that drive climate change. And with cacao demand remaining high globally (~4.45million tonnes/year), the need to find a sustainable method for disposal of these by-products has increased, thus leading to efforts in understanding how cacao husks can be upcycled instead of disposed.

Source: Statista
The annual production of cacao globally. The decreasing trend in cacao production has been attributed to changes in climate conditions that affect the cacao yield.

 What can Cacao Husks be used for?

While cacao husks may only find their way more commonly into your diet in the near future, these by-products have already been used in a variety of ways that you may not know about. 

Their diverse usage in different industries can not only be attributed to the attempts to reduce the environmental impact of husk biodegradation but also the various bioactive compounds within the husks which can provide physiological benefits.

#1 Animal Feed

The usage of cacao husks in livestock feeding has been documented as early as the late 1900s, where dried cacao husks were used as feed ingredients for poultry and livestock. 

Limitations of feeding these dried husks, however, include the uneconomical costs associated with drying the husks and their lower protein content (despite a high overall nutritional composition). Studies have thus been done to develop methods to increase the nutritional quality of the husks while lowering their costs of processing.

Source: ASPCA Pet Health
The negative repercussions of theobromine consumption by dogs (also similarly affects other animals)

Husks also often undergo the process of bio-detheobromination, which removes a principal component of cacao – theobromine. The removal of theobromine is essential as animals such as pigs or dogs, are unable to break down theobromine, unlike humans.

Theobromine is harmless to humans and even has health benefits such as lowering blood pressure. The chemical compound is often used to synthesise medicinal products and caffeine.

#2 Cosmetic & Skincare Products

In recent years, the popularity of using cocoa husks in cosmetic and skincare products has been on the rise, attributable to the demand for natural additives, as opposed to synthetic counterparts. Also known as the cacao husk pigment, the additive has found its way into many commonly used products including lipsticks, moisturisers and cleansers

Source: 100% Pure
The usage of cacao nibs and husks in cosmetics and skincare has been increasing due to the beneficial properties of cacao such as its high antioxidant content.

#3 Food Additives

Commercially, the addition of cacao husks into various food products has been tested for the improvement of food quality such as shelf-life and flavour. You might be surprised to know that the husks have not only been added to baked goods (like biscuits and cakes – which may already contain cocoa) but even meat-based products like sausages.

Source: MDPI
Products where cacao husk has been tested as a food additive

The usage of cacao husks in meat-based products serves as a way to increase the nutritional quality of the products by: 1) Replacing common binding agents like starch with a higher fibre alternative and 2) Replacing widely used synthetic antioxidants (which act as preservatives) like ascorbic acid with a natural alternative.

One of the benefits of fibre is an increase in food satiety, so when incorporated into meat-based products, it could generate a decrease in the size of food portions, causing a net consumption of meat to decrease, and, therefore, the related greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.

How can you use Cacao Husks?

If I have successfully piqued your interest in cacao husks, here are some ways that you may use them in your daily life.

#1 Cacao Husk Tea

Source: cacaoteaco
Cacao husks which can be used to brew tea

A common household way of using cacao husks is by making tea. Cacao tea is the perfect alternative to your routine morning coffee, being naturally packed with antioxidants, minerals and theobromine, providing a caffeine-free energy boost to start your day well.

Theobromine has been shown to affect focus and concentration similarly to caffeine, while also having mood-enhancing capabilities through the increase of dopamine levels within the body.

With the myriad of benefits possible from cacao tea, why not grab a bag and try it for yourself!

#2 Gardening

Source: greenlivinganswers

Cacao husks are not only nutritious for you, but for your plants too (unfortunately not so much for your pets). The husks are high in the three main nutrients required for healthy plant growth: 1) Nitrogen (within nitrogenous compounds such as theobromine), 2) Phosphorus and 3) Potassium. The addition of husks to your garden soil would thus increase soil vitality, allowing your plants to grow better.

Husks also contain other minerals such as calcium and magnesium which are essential for the proper development of roots and leaves, important plant organs that affect their ability to make food from sunlight (photosynthesis).

The husks can not only serve as a source of essential nutrients but also as a top cover to retain moisture within the soil and prevent weed growth. When gardening with husks, do however ensure to avoid excessive watering of the plants to prevent over-moisturisation of the soil that can lead to mould growth.

Concluding Thoughts

As such, with the increasing trend of usage within the food and beauty industry, these once-considered waste by-products of cocoa manufacturing may eventually become as common as household salt and pepper. With the nutritional benefits that the husks provide, they are surely a worthy addition to your morning routine.