A Chat with Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate

  in Blog

The discussion surrounding heavy metals in chocolate has taken center stage due to a recent  Consumer Report study finding heavy metals in dark chocolate. Instead of stuffing our carts with bars of decadent dark chocolate bars and sweet treats for Valentine’s Day, many may have been wary about indulging.  

Ahead of the most beloved chocolate holiday, we reached out to our friends at Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Empire, Michigan, to get their perspective on the growing concern for heavy metals in chocolate.  

Oryana: What are your main takeaways/reactions from the study? Can you speak to the naturally occurring heavy metals in cacao growing soil and value chain? Using your experience in the chocolate industry, is there any additional context you can give consumers regarding the accrual of heavy metals in the cacao growing process? How are GD chocolates different than those implicated in the study?

Grocer’s Daughter: I fully agree that we must better understand and prevent toxic levels of heavy metals in our diets. This recent consumer report follows a similar report about cadmium released a couple years ago by As You Sow. Cadmium is typically the heavy metal we hear about in chocolate because it’s naturally occurring in the soil and, thus, more difficult to mitigate. There have been international conferences about cadmium in the cocoa industry for several years now to better understand why and where cadmium exists, and to discuss preventive measures for absorption by cacao trees.

The lead, however, is widely believed to be collected along the value chain, likely during transport and storage due to vehicle/equipment emissions. This is easier to control as an environmental input and, in the fine chocolate industry where we (GDC) exist, the post-harvest production processes aren’t permitted near vehicles/roads/machines because of potential contamination.

It’s important to note that chocolate isn’t the only culprit; there are reports that claim certain cereal grains and potatoes contribute higher levels of cadmium to diet. I  I think it’s important to understand that there are many commonly consumed foods that also contribute heavy metals to our diet and, if you are concerned about your levels of heavy metals, talk to your doctor about getting tested. Finally, I refer you to this blog post by our dear friend and chocolate partner, Conexion Chocolate in Ecuador, from whom we source our chocolate. ~ Jody Dotson-Hayden, co-owner of Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Empire, Michigan.

From Conexion Chocolate in Ecuador where GDC obtains chocolate:

Testing For Cadmium In Cacao And Chocolate 

We already have in place processes that we continue to improve to track for cadmium in our products. We began in one province and particularly for our derivatives, but we will begin implementing test analysis across all of our products this coming year. 

It Starts With Our Selection Of Cacao Batches 

It is important to note that starting with low cadmium cacao beans helps ensure that the chocolate will comply with the low cadmium requirements. This is why we work closely with our cacao cooperatives and partners when collecting the cacao batch. When we meet with our producers we regularly remind them of the growing concern for metals such as cadmium, and inform them on ways to reduce cadmium in the soil. We talk with field technicians about strategies to decrease cadmium. This can be done by introducing zinc in the soil and adding organic matter such as compost and bocachi. These organic amendments are low in cadmium and play a fundamental role in reducing cadmium in soil. 

Sampling And Analysis 

From our cacao batches we randomly select a large sample of cacao beans from different bags and transform it into liquor. We then send this cacao liquor sample for a cadmium analysis. We work closely with international labs that comply with the EU analysis methods. When we receive a positive result we continue with the production. Otherwise we proceed to select a different batch for production.