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Question:
Why is there so much cadmium, a toxin, in cocoa powders but not in dark chocolate?

Answer:
It's true that we found most cocoa powders to have high concentrations of cadmium -- around 1 to 1.5 mcg per gram -- which is much higher than the World Health Organization limit of 0.3 mcg per gram. The dark chocolate bars we tested had concentrations which were about 1/10th the amount found in cocoa.  

The main reason why there is less cadmium per gram in dark chocolate than cocoa powder, is that cadmium is in the cocoa solids, which, when dried, is cocoa powder. Dark chocolate contains these cocoa solids, but also includes cocoa butter and sugar, which can make up a substantial portion of the chocolate, reducing the concentration of cadmium. However, this does not fully explain the higher cadmium in cocoa powders. In fact, on average you ingest about 4 times as much cadmium from cocoa powder as you do as from dark chocolate to get an equivalent amount of flavanols. Of course, this ratio depends on the specific products (see our report for details).

The other factor at play is that cadmium levels vary based on where the cocoa was grown and how it was processed. Most of the cocoa powders we tested (representing many of the most popular brands) were labeled as coming from Latin America. It has been found that cocoa products from Latin America generally have a higher cadmium concentration than those from West Africa, although there is considerable regional variation. The dark chocolates did not identify the sources of their cocoa solids, but if many were from West Africa, this may help explain their lower cadmium levels.

Keep in mind that the typical serving size of a chocolate bar is about 40 grams, while its 5 grams for a cup of hot cocoa. So due to the larger serving size, you can still get a lot cadmium from dark chocolate -- although typically still less than from cocoa powder. In fact, we identified one bar which exceeded the daily limits for adults and children in Canada, as well as the limit in California -- above which a warning label is required. Most of the cocoa powders also exceeded these limits.

The bottom line is that it's probably best to limit your average daily intake to no more than one serving of cocoa or dark chocolate, and stick with products found to have lowest the concentrations of cadmium and other potentially dangerous contaminants.

For our tests of popular cocoa and chocolate products, see the Review of Cocoa Powders, Dark Chocolate, Extracts, Nibs, & Supplements >>


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steven12842   March 21, 2017
Due to your recent exposes on heavy metals in cacao, I decided to write to RXBAR to ask them about this.
I have been using their protein bar, chocolate sea salt for 6 months now. It contains cacao.
I asked them where do they source their cacao, how much cocoa is in their product and whether they ever did any testing or commissioned testing for heavy metals, such as cadmium, arsenic and lead.
They claimed they "use 100% cacao that is tested for heavy metals and is sourced from Central America, South America and Africa."
There is less than 7% of cacao in bars that have it which means all 4 products with chocolate.
I then asked where they test and also what % of lead, arsenic and cadmium did they find.
They claimed they test here in the US but they avoided answering the % question. When I pushed for a response, they claimed the results are proprietary. I responded by saying their response was BS, that i wasn't asking for their recipe. If the product was safe, why wouldn't they reveal it? Their response was basically to just say their product is safe and that they stand behind it. Needless to say I will go to a different bar maker.

Ellen12800   March 8, 2017
I have been a chocoholic for well over the human half-life of cadmium. So...how concerned should I be about continuing to eat any more cadmium-laden chocolate? ; (

A few years ago I switched to chocolate nibs, thinking that was a better chocolate alternative (fewer calories, fats, carbs, etc). However your report is enlightening me that that may not have been the better choice.

I also looked into ways to reduce my stored cadmium levels and there, too, found conflicting information.

ConsumerLab.com   March 13, 2017
Hi Ellen - Please see "How much of a danger is cadmium and lead from cocoa and chocolate" in the Cocoa and Dark Chocolate Review: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/_/cocoa-flavanols/#heavymetals

Matt12768   March 3, 2017
What is not clear, it seems to me, is how much, say, dark chocolate corresponds to a tablespoon of cocoa powder. I realize that the quantity will vary with concentration in the chocolate product, but what is an order-of-magnitude estimate?

ConsumerLab.com   March 8, 2017
Hi Matt - Thank you for your question. We've answered here: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/_/dark-chocolate-cocoa-flavanols/

roberta11436   November 28, 2016
Are these test results an average of several batches or a sampling from one batch?

ConsumerLab.com   November 28, 2016
We test multiple products but within a single lot. We do this for several reasons: 1) If made under good manufacuring practices, each lot should be the same as the next; 2) if we were to purchase multiple lots and then show an average result, the amount reported would often not reflect any actual sample; and 3) we retain an unopened reserve sample of each product and can offer that for re-testing by a mutually acceptable third party laboratory in the event that a company wishes to challenge our findings.

roberta11428   November 27, 2016
Are these an average of several batches or a sampling from one batch?
At present we are left with no unsweetened cocoa powder that is low in both cadmium and lead.

ConsumerLab.com   November 28, 2016
Unfortunately, that's correct. As discussed in the Review, choose a product with the least contamination and use in moderation. So far, we have found a problem with every cocoa powder which we have tested from Latin America -- some better than others but none without issue.

Kirsten8477   February 24, 2016
Can you tell me if you think drinking hot chocolate mix is dangerous too? Would it have a high Cadmium content too?

ConsumerLab.com   March 4, 2016
Hi Kristen - We have tested pure cocoa powders but not hot chocolate drink mixes so we cannot say for sure; however, it would seem to depend on how much cocoa powder (and the brand/source of that cocoa) it contains. If the cocoa in a hot chocolate mix is combined with other ingredients (some brands contain ingredients such as whey, nonfat milk, corn syrup, etc.) there may be less cadmium per serving, only because there is less cocoa -- but again, we have not tested these.

Kirsten8460   February 18, 2016
Could you please test Nib Mor drinking Chocolate traditional next time you test cocoa powders.


ConsumerLab.com   March 4, 2016
Hi Kirsten - Thank you for your suggestion, we will keep this in mind for future testing.

Kirsten8451   February 17, 2016
Are there any cocoa powders that are safe to use?

ConsumerLab.com   February 18, 2016
Hi Kirsten - Our tests found that all cocoa powders contain arsenic and/or lead at levels above the thresholds we applied. Some were more contaminated than others -- and it would seem wise to choose those with less contamination, as shown in the report. However, if your use is only occasional (not more than a tablespoon once a day), it is highly unlikely that any of these products would be unsafe for an adult.

Kirsten8450   February 17, 2016
Are there any Cocoa powders that are safe to eat?


Isabelle8400   January 26, 2016
Hi, please could you test this one next time you test cocoa powder:

http://www.bulletproof.com/chocolate-powder-net-wt-16-oz

They claim the following:

That's why we made Upgraded Chocolate Powder using an optimized process to create powdered chocolate without minimized levels of toxins, which normally make chocolate such a common source of problems.

But of course when I asked them if they tested for cadmium, they did not...

Thanks,

ConsumerLab.com   February 8, 2016
Hi Isabelle - Thank you for your suggestion; we will keep it in mind for a future review.

Marion11426   November 27, 2016
please test schmerling's swiss chocloate...i eat a couple of squares of their 72% bars almost every day...thanks.

ron8147   December 7, 2015
I now use nibs rather than powder in my smoothies. I found some with very low cadmium.

Ellen12799   March 8, 2017
Which brands?

Lee1751   June 1, 2015
I eat baker's chocolate to avoid the sugar - about an ounce a day. So, does that mean it would have similar amounts of cadmium as cocoa powder?

ConsumerLab.com   June 1, 2015
Hi Lee - Our tests of dark chocolate bars included a bar of baking chocolate -- you can find the results for this product, including tests for lead, cadmium and arsenic, here: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews//cocoa-flavanols/#results

Sandra579   February 24, 2015
So the cadmium does not result from the processing, but is taken up from the soil by the plant? Does the cocoa plant tend to concentrate cadmium more than other plants, or is the soil where it is grown in Latin America just unusually high in cadmium?

ConsumerLab.com   February 24, 2015
Hi Sandra - Some plants absorb more cadmium from the soil than others, but the amount of cadmium in the soil will also influence how much is absorbed. As noted above, cocoa products from Latin America have generally been found to have a higher concentration of cadmium than cocoa from West Africa.

steven569   February 23, 2015
what about organic cocoa?

ConsumerLab.com   February 23, 2015
Hi Steven - The organic cocoa powders we tested also exceeded limits for cadmium. You can see the results for these here: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/%20/cocoa-flavanols/#results2

ron8144   December 6, 2015
I also found that some nibs are much lower than powder or bars.

ConsumerLab.com   December 7, 2015
Hi Ron - You may be interested in our tests results for the amount of cadmium found in a popular brand of cacao nibs: https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/_/cocoa-flavanols/#results

Susan11635   February 1, 2017
Will you test more Cacoa nib brands? neither of the 2 listed were approved and I'm looking for an alternative to the product I am using now.

ConsumerLab.com   February 1, 2017
Hi Susan - We will be testing additional cocoa/cacao products in 2017. You are welcome to suggest any brands you may be interested in.

This CL Answer initially posted on 2/21/2015. Last updated 8/4/2017.

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