The cacao fruit is best associated with helping to create chocolate, but a world-renowned chocolatier wants to show consumers that it’s no one-trick pony.
Max Brenner is the co-founder of the chocolate cafe chain and shop of the same name, which has locations around the US, Australia, Israel, Japan and Russia. After selling the business and signing a five-year non-compete agreement, he has come back with a new concept called Blue Stripes, which shows of different dimensions of cacao.
Describing it as a super fruit, Brenner has gushed over its “amazing pulp that’s a beautiful white with a very delicate, slightly sour kind of flavour, with hints of guava,” while noting, “It has nothing to do with what people think of as chocolate. It’s smooth, light and refreshing.”
Sustainability and sugar replacement
Brenner launched his new cacao fruit concept and café in New York with the backing of First Foods Group, a restaurant management and development company based in Las Vegas.
Serving the fruit’s pulp up in bowls and shakes is a world first, claims Brenner.
“These are in the style of acai bowls, but with cacao fruit. We top it with granola, fruit or other toppings. We’re also making energy shakes with cacao juice,” he told Jewish news site Forward.
The shell is dried and ground into a gluten-free flour, which Brenner incorporates into cookies and pastries such as chocolate babka (a cake swirled with cinnamon-spiced chocolate). It’s also available to customers to purchase and take home.
Baristas create cacao tea sorbets made with the fruit’s juice, which is also sold as a beverage in flavours like cucumber mint, carrot ginger, strawberry apple and cucumber kale.
However, while Brenner may be first to foodservice, he isn’t the first to introduce the cacao fruit in drinkable form. An Ecuadorian farm has created a brand called Repurposed Pod, turning cacao fruit into a sweet juice that contains magnesium, B vitamins and antioxidants. Sold in US retailers, it can be guzzled straight from the carton, added to green smoothies, juices and cocktails, or reduced as a syrup for desserts, the company said.
Much of the cacao pulp is wasted during the chocolate-making process, according to Repurposed Pod, which has a sustainability focus.
“By creating cacao juice, we’ve discovered a way to repurpose this pulp, reduce waste, improve farmer incomes and along the way, produce a mouth-watering, natural beverage for you to enjoy,” the company said.
Cacao fruit is no stranger to US manufacturing either. Florida-based Cacao Fruit Company works directly with small farmers and co-operatives in South America and the Caribbean to use 99% of the fruit’s pod. It has developed a gentle extraction process of the pulp and surrounding cacao berry peal to protect its antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Founder Joe Montgomery also had an eye on sustainability when he started the business, claiming that the standard process of harvesting cocoa beans only ever uses 20% of the fruit.
“It’s a reverse comparison, where one eats an apple from the peel to the core and then throws the core and its seeds away. But with cacao fruit, it’s just the opposite. Instead, the cacao fruit is harvested from the inside out and only the cocoa beans seeds are used,” he said.
The company has worked with manufacturers to create products like cacao fruit pulp and powders to use as sugar replacers and as low-cost fibre, to improve the nutritional profiles in beverages and sorbets, and to increase cacao levels for chocolatiers without increasing bitterness of dark chocolate products.
It’s also been used as a sugar, pectin and preservative replacement in marmalades and fruit spreads.
But back to Brenner. Along with the cacao concept are a range of indulgent chocolate products like pankwiches (pancake sandwiches) stuffed with chocolate banana toffee or dulce chocolate strawberry cream and sundaes or freak shakes with popcorn, peanuts and salted caramel.
He also plans to go into wholesale and expand the Blue Stripes brand via international franchising opportunities.
So does Sparkie think people will go cuckoo for cacao fruit?
I think cacao fruit will have interest as a novelty. The big problem with finding uses for it now is that the fruit is integral to the fermentation process that produces chocolate. There have been a few recent articles stating how chocolate is dying out as a plant due to mass habitat destruction, so I think a continued chocolate production is going to outweigh the value of the fruit unless they find a way to ferment the beans in a different way.
The alternative is to make use of any fruit that is unsuitable for chocolate production, which would be a good way to utilise waste but would also keep the scale of production small.