• Upcycled Food Association

Upcycling and the Cacao Fruit

Nearly everyone is familiar with chocolate, but few people know that chocolate is actually the seed of a fruit. This colorful fruit grows on the cacao tree, which is a tropical fruit tree native to the forests of Ecuador. The cacao tree is one of the most remarkable plants on earth, and its fruit is loaded with health benefits.

But there is more to the cacao fruit than merely its seeds. The seeds inside each colorful pod are encased in a white, sweet fruit pulp. This pulp and the juice that comes from it is discarded during the chocolate-making process. At Xoca we know this all too well, as two of our co-founders are chocolate makers based in Ecuador. After eight years spent farming cacao and making chocolate, two truths became increasingly clear:

  • Cacao Fruit tastes delightful

  • Almost no one was doing anything with the juice

Image Credit: Xoca

To us, this seemed like a waste, as well as a lost opportunity. We created Xoca with the intention to put the remarkable fruit of the cacao tree to much better use. That’s where upcycling comes into play. Upcycling is the process of transforming by-products or other “waste” materials into new products of higher quality. Upcycling shares many of the same environmental benefits as recycling, but there’s an upgrade involved. In the case of cacao fruit juice, there’s the added benefit of providing an additional revenue stream for farmers.

How Xoca Upcycles Cacao Fruit Juice

Xoca sources its cacao fruit from a group of small family farms in Ecuador. The cacao farmers we work with did not previously have a market for their cacao fruit juice. They only sold the seeds for chocolate, and often struggled to make a living despite their hard work. Meanwhile, the juice was literally dumped onto the ground or into the nearest waterway.

Xoca was born with the idea to convert this discarded resource into an opportunity for both farmers and consumers—the proverbial win-win scenario. To source our juice, we work directly with farmers and provide them with the equipment and training necessary to collect juice on the farm shortly after the cacao pods are opened.

Image Credit: Xoca

Once collected, our juice is reduced to a rich honey, through a process of gentle heating. This honey is then shipped to the US, where we use it to make Xoca Cacao Fruit Soda.

Image Credit: Xoca

The cacao farmers we work with now have two revenue streams instead of one. They sell the seeds of their cacao fruit to chocolate producers, and they sell the juice to Xoca. This increases their earnings by over 50% per cacao pod. Collecting the juice also has the added environmental benefit of reducing acidic run-off into local waterways.

Author Bio: Jacob Lopata

Jacob is a highly driven entrepreneur with management experience in aviation, space, internet, and food & beverage startups. Over the past 20 years, Jacob has also provided strategic guidance and start-up mentoring for early stage companies in a wide range of industries. Jacob was Chief Executive Officer, and then Chairman of the Board, of The Space Launch Corporation, a prime government defense and space contractor. He is currently a founder and CEO of Xoca World. Xoca is a functional beverage startup bringing to market a line of unique, all-natural energy drinks and prebiotic beverages made from the discarded and underappreciated parts of the Cacao Fruit. Jacob earned his B.S in Aerospace Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and his M.S. in Aeronautics & Astronautics from MIT. He is also a commercial pilot and flight instructor.