It might come across as a big surprise to chocolate lovers around the world that their favorite sweet treat is running low in supplies. There have been forecasts of a cocoa crisis around 2020 and with good reasons. Take Ivory Coast for example, the largest cocoa producing region, where younger farmers are moving over to rubber cultivation instead as cocoa plantation yields are very low and buyers coerce them to sell their produce for extremely low prices. With such little remuneration for a plant that requires a very difficult harvesting process, farmers have been abandoning their plantations.
In Indonesia, the third largest producer of cocoa, a $350 million cloning experiment, meant to produce seeds that are fast growing and disease resistant, backfired and harvests have gone down. Furthermore, Indonesia and other Asian countries producing cocoa have to deal with the “cocoa pod borer”, a moth that attacks cocoa plants. Supplies continue to go down because of bad harvests, ageing plants and disease while demand for chocolate in new markets such as China and India continue to soar. Are you willing to pay a fortune for a bar of chocolate in the near future?
Luckily, there is good news. Sayma Akhter, a Bangladeshi researcher at Bangor University in United Kingdom, has shown that wild mango butter is a suitable alternative to cocoa butter. In a recent study published in Scientific Reports where Sayma is the senior author, her research has revealed that wild mango butter has very similar chemical, physical and thermal properties to cocoa butter.
Cocoa butter is the only commercially available natural fat that has a high content of both saturated and monosaturated fatty acids. It is a key ingredient in making chocolate and is also widely used in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Using wild mango butter while a cocoa crisis looms closer would be a revolutionary initiative. In fact, mango butter is even better than cocoa butter in some respects as it has higher moisture content than cocoa butter, which could be used to make low fat chocolate to ward off obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Sayma explained, “Wild mango is one of the so-called ‘Cinderella’ species whose real potential is unrealized. The identification of real added value as we have shown in this study, could pluck it from obscurity into mainstream production. With the support of government and non-governmental organizations, small scale industries could be set up to create a new income source for local people. There are many other new products that can come from underutilized fruits which are still waiting for proper attention.”
Sayma’s research could have a positive impact on Bangladesh as the wild mangoes (mangifera sylvatica) used to extract the butter grow in abundance in the country. The European Union’s FONASO (Forest and Nature for Society) Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctoral Program funded the research and it is being co-supervised by Copenhagen University and the University of Chittagong.