Lead in Chocolate

Lead in Chocolate

Lead in chocolate had not previously been much of a concern. In fact, chocolates have been a favorite confectionary to give to loved ones during special times of the year. Certain types of chocolate can increase the blood flow to the brain, making it one of many superfoods. However, a certain consumer health group wants people to know that overindulging in their favorite candy may not be a good idea.

As You Sow, a non-profit group based in Oakland, California tested and found lead in chocolate of more than 20 different popular brands. These companies sold chocolate that has more lead and cadmium that is allowed by California law. Heavy metals such as these accumulate in the body and can seriously complicate the health, or worse. Too much cadmium in the body can damage the lungs, and ultimately cause death.  Too much lead may seriously complicate the body’s nervous system. Children overexposed to lead may experience behavioral problems. A rare case in Minnesota reports that a four-year-old child died after swallowing a jewelry charm with very high lead levels.

Lead in Chocolate
Roasted Cocoa Beans

Another consumer group in California also took up the mantel to sound the alarm about dangers of lead in chocolate. The University of California Santa Cruz concedes that heavy metals are found in nature, even in the earth’s core, and that might be the source of the lead in chocolate. Normal amount of lead  that would come from nature hovers at less than 5 nanograms per gram.

The amount of lead in processed chocolate was a shocking 70 nanograms per gram, cacao powder had an astounding 230 nanograms per gram. Further studies linked the high concentration to the use of leaded gas in developing countries, such as Nigeria, that still use it. The cacao shell absorbs the gas when it is pumped into the atmosphere. The lead may also enter into the chocolate during the some part  of its five-part manufacturing process.

The first stage involves fermenting and drying the cacao bean. Workers remove the bean from the tree, and then split the bean in half. After being removed, it is exposed to the open air to ferment for a two-week period, a perfect time for lead in the air to enter chocolate. After a couple of weeks, the raw cacao is roasted. Next, the bean is cracked and winnowed. At this point, the nib, or outer shell is removed from the cacao bean. Powerful machines do the work of separating the edible from the inedible. The edible nib will be further processed to make various chocolate products.

This raw cocoa liquor or cocoa mass is the core ingredient of confectionary chocolate. Cocoa butter is liquefied nib. Cocoa powder is the residue of extruding the cocoa liquor from the nibs. Conching turns cocoa mass into a smooth product. Tempering is the cooling and stirring of the chocolate. It is usually done by hand and gives the chocolate a nice shiny finish.

Both big and small chocolate companies tested had lead in their chocolate. Surprisingly, several organic brands and fancy store brands were listed among the offenders. Happily, 13 different familiar brands had no lead in chocolate.

By Danielle Branch


Encyclopedia of Earth

Bay Area Bites

Minnesota Department of Health

As You Sow

Photo by Nikki Tysoe – License

Photo by Farrukh – License

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