The Chocolate Life

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Paul Young is grabbing headlines in England this week with the launch of his "whole bean chocolate" (i.e., grinding all of the shell into the mass), which he sees as a notable innovation of chocolate making, rather than as a throwback to a time when lack of food safety regulations allowed the sale of such adulterated chocolate to customers unable to pay for anything better.  More on it here (e.g., "No one's quite sure why the shells are removed; that's just how it's always been done").  And here (where Young is quoted as saying, "Everyone shells just because that’s what they’ve been told").

Adulterating chocolate with shell is, of course, far from new.  And the legal, safety, and organoleptic reasons for removing shell are well and widely known.


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Another rave review out of the UK for Young's "whole bean chocolate," referring to it as "bloody brilliant" and "a more wholesome way" of making chocolate.

And another one ("it sits in a whole different league!").


I went by the Wardour Street store in SoHo yesterday and picked up samples of both the 64% and 73% whole bean chocolates - both made with Madagascan beans.

I have never faced the opening of a bar of chocolate with more trepidation than I feel with these two. Unusual texture, indeed.

I am flying back to NYC from London today and don't want to get sick, so I will get to these at some point this weekend. Maybe. I hope?

Oh - and £6.95 ($11.50) for a 50gr bar - that's $100/lb for those of us who keep track of such things.

You're more likely to get noticeably sick from raw chocolate, due to survival of microbial contaminants.  But, unless you're in a fragile state, a case of salmonellosis will pass in a day or two and you'll be back to normal. Hug the toilet; ride it out.

The risks associated with shell are much more serious, though less likely to immediately manifest.  Lead and OTA stay in the body a long time and do real and lasting harm--to organs (especially the brain and kidneys) and cells.  (Lead has a half-life of 20 days in the body.  OTA has a half-life of 35 days, making it still detectible in plasma 280 days after exposure.)  Take a look Dr. William Manton's survey of the current medical literature on toxicity of "Nonnutritive Constituents in Chocolate and Cocoa" (from last year's Chocolate in Health and Nutrition) before deciding if you really want to "take one for the team" in this way.


Hmm interesting. 

Barry-Callebaut has been working this from the industrial end, apparently processing the husk separately.

There are some nutritional benefits if you are looking for things such as fiber.   Apparently the husk also has abundant catechins and polyphenols which supposedly have helth benefits

I suspect that if someone wants to use the husk 'properly' it will need to be done as a separate process line from the rest of the bean.

I wonder what the implications of heavy metal contamination in the husk are for things like 'brewing chocolate'?


From the article in Confectionery News referenced above:

The cocoa shells need to then be washed to remove sand, off-flavor notes and undesired components such as mycotoxins or pesticides. The shell fractions may be washed by aqueous buffer solutions at a temperature between 15⁰C and 100⁰C for between one and 12 hours.

The washing step can be repeated up to five times and must be followed by a drying process like heat convection, head conduction, steam and vacuum or counter current heater air.

The shells then need to be alkalized, and this can be achieved by standard processes, Barry Callebaut said. After being cooled, the alkalized cocoa shell powder then needs to dry for 35-85 minutes before being ground, it added.

It's not a trivial process to make the shell safe to eat.

Don't forget the Pralus choc coated cocoa beans, they have the shell on them. I was taken quite by surprise when i had some a few years ago, for the above stated reasons.

Tom -

The beans are roasted. They should be free of pathogens to 99.999%. As for the possibility of heavy metal and other contamination, I would imagine that there is a certificate of analysis on each origin at least once a year to let them know about other forms of contamination.

I was in London last week and picked up two bars of Paul A Young's whole bean chocolate.

I brought it back to NY and tasted one of the two bars (the 64%) with a number of friends and colleagues who are professional and semi-professional/trained chocolate tasters and the most flattering comment was,

"It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be."

Sorry, Paul.

First off, the texture is all wrong. And it's not different like the Sicilian chocolates that are crunchy or chocolate that is under-refined and gritty, it's just wrong. Chewy kind of. 

The 64% is surprisingly very sweet, and this may be because the sugar can't be refined smaller than the shell fragments which means the sweetness is more present than it would be if it were refined and conched (properly) into the chocolate. A low roast may also be a part of the reason.

There is a very unpleasant aftertaste on the bar that kind of gets stuck in the back of the throat and lingers there, menacingly demanding that it be washed away by something stronger than water.

One of the reviews mentioned something about the taste of parmesan cheese, which might come partly from lactic acid. That said, if I want my chocolate to taste like parmesan I want it to taste like parmesan because someone added parmesan to the chocolate. David Briggs at Xocolatl de David in Portland, OR does this and it's quite nice, actually.

The Brits can have it as far as I am concerned, but it's a huge step backwards for the craft chocolate world in general and I hope that someone in the UK wakes up and recognizes that this emperor is not wearing any new clothes and tells Paul that while it may be a decent marketing stunt that's all it is.

It's not bloody brilliant and it's not more wholesome. It's stupid and a real potential health hazard if it's actually being made as described in the articles and reviews.

I am very glad that it's actually illegal to sell this in the US as chocolate because of the high shell content. It's a chocolate-like substance.

Wow Clay. 


That's the harshest I've yet to see you write (except in private emails to me!  haha!).


Thanks for keeping it real.



Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it, Clay.

Another point with regard to sweetness.  He's probably counting shell (erroneously) as a cocoa solid.  Assuming 13% shell content, that means that the actual cocoa solids from mass are about 56%.  But according to the ingredient list, he's also added cocoa butter.  Assuming a typical 5-8% cocoa butter pad, that would give you a bar with more or less 50% cocoa solids from mass. But the assumed 5-8% cocoa butter supplement is based on what's typical from makers working with liquor. Even more cocoa butter would be necessary with the high content of shell particles.  Sweetness!



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