Cacao and heavy metals - everything you need to know

Cacao is considered one of nature's super foods. 

This nutrient dense ancient tree has recently been in the spotlight. Not for its health benefits, but due to a heavy metal intruder that is threatening its popularity. 

The metal in question is Cadmium. 

Cadmium is considered toxic. When ingested or inhaled, it is not metabolised well by the human body. It accumulates over time and can have detrimental effects on the lungs, kidneys, liver, bones and reproductive organs. It can also impair neurobehavioral development. Children are more susceptible than adults to exposure from low doses of cadmium over time. This is why it is classified as a human carcinogen. 

Cadmium is regularly found in rock or sediment together with zinc, copper and lead. Volcanic activity is one natural reason for a temporary increase in environmental cadmium concentrations. There is no way to avoid the presence of this mineral in the cacao supply chain. It is in the soil, where it is taken up my many plants, including the cacao tree. 

How much ends up in your cacao powder?

That depends on many factors. Geographic location and soil acidity play the most important roles. Despite being considered the world’s largest producer of high-end cacao, beans from Latin America are believed to be particularly affected by cadmium. Traces of this mineral are higher in cacao from Latin America than from West Africa, due to higher volcanic activities. 

What are safe levels of cadmium?

As You Sow has conducted independent laboratory testing of over 120 chocolate products for cadmium. Based on the results of their testing, they found 96 of the 127 chocolate products tested contained toxic levels of cadmium. That's nearly 80% of big brand chocolates in the United States. The brands tested often buy the cheapest beans from South America. 

Safe cadmium levels for cacao powder in the United Sates is 0.67 parts per million. Most cacao powder suppliers, however, do not test their product for heavy metals. It's costly. Also, many suppliers simply do not view this is an important issue. It's incredibly important. Ideally every single batch of cacao powder, no matter its origin, should be tested for heavy metals. 

Why? When taking a medicinal plant for therapeutic purposes, it defeats the purpose if the plant is contaminated with toxic ingredients. 

What you can do

If you are buying a cheap cacao powder, you are more at risk. If you are using cacao and you're not sure, contact the company and ask what their levels of heavy metals are. Currently, not many New Zealand importers of cacao test for heavy metals. The good news is that Mamamuti cacao is tested. Latest lab results indicate that Mamamuti cacao contains 0.4 parts per million of cadmium, which is well below safe levels. 

We want you to feel safe and supply you with the best cacao.

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