Cocoa Butter

I wonder if I were a chocolatière, would I meet a day where I’d get sick of chocolate? It seems like an unfathomable thought. I don’t know many situations that aren’t improved by the presence of chocolate. There’s only a few ingredients needed to make real chocolate: cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla and sea salt. And for the longest time the average chocolate lover who dreamt of making their own could access all but the very first ingredient. Cocoa butter!

I first saw cocoa butter available in retailers around 10 years ago. Looking at it I remember thinking - it looks like a bar of soap. It has a faint smell of chocolate and was (is) quite expensive. Fast forward to now, cocoa butter is available online and in confectionary specialty stores. 

So what is cocoa butter and is it healthy? And what else can you do with it other than make chocolate?

What is Cocoa Butter?

Cocoa butter is also known as theobroma oil and is the pure fat that comes from the cocoa bean. Cocoa butter is used to make chocolate of course, as well as pharmaceutical products and cosmetics. Its light yellow colour is similar to the look of white chocolate. Cocoa butter is solid at room temperature and melts at approximately 34 degrees celsius. 

Bowl of cocoa butter surrounded by cocoa beans

How is Cocoa Butter made?

The cocoa butter process is lengthy and uses some sophisticated techniques. Here’s how it’s done. 

  1. Farmers pick and remove the cocoa beans from the inside of cocoa fruit. 
  2. Cocoa beans are cleaned and roasted to intensify their flavour.
  3. Once roasted, the beans are removed from the shells and broken into small pieces.
  4. These small pieces are known as cocoa nibs and are then melted into cocoa liquor.
  5. This liquor is processed into cocoa butter and solids, via hydraulic press method.
  6. The cocoa butter is now collected and stored, solidifying as a solid fat once cooled. 
  7. The final cocoa butter product is ready to be packed and sold.

What’s in Cocoa Butter?

Real cocoa butter has a very light caramel colour to it. It is mostly made of fatty acids, with around 97% of its total composition being fats.

  • Saturated fats: Stearic acid, palmitic acid (may support healthy cholesterol levels)
  • Polyunsaturated fat: Linoleic acid (aids wound healing)
  • Monounsaturated fat: Oleic acid (broad anti-inflammatory fat, supports brain health)
  • Vitamin E (prevents lipid peroxidation)
  • Flavonoids (ant-inflammatory & anti-cancer properties)
  • Choline (memory, nervous system and brain health, liver health)

And - cocoa butter contains no sugar!

Cocoa butter in a small white bowl with cocoa and chocolate

Here’s a quick look at choline… 

  • Choline is found in eggs, liver, chicken, peanuts, cruciferous veggies and of course - cocoa butter. 
  • Choline is not known as an essential nutrient however is metabolically similar to other B vitamins.
  • Choline’s role in the body is varied and research now supports the importance of obtaining it from our diet. 
  • Choline is important in neurotransmitter synthesis, which helps our brains and hormones communicate effectively. 
  • Choline helps support gallbladder and liver function, assisting in fat metabolism.
  • There’s increasing interest in choline as being an equally important nutrient alongside folate in the prevention against neural tube defects, and important in perinatal nutrition.

It seems there could be some emerging health benefits of cocoa butter. 

But what about the health benefits of cocoa butter topically? 

Cocoa butter: a skin-loving natural lip balm

Completely natural and delicious as well, cocoa butter is wonderful for chapped or dry lips. You can make a little pot of lip balm by gently melting together cocoa butter with a few drops of orange or lavender essential oil. Cocoa butter is an emollient, which means it provides a barrier to your skin against the harsh environment while also providing hydration and nourishment from healthy fats.

Cocoa butter: a home-made soothing heel balm

A soft and soothing heel balm, you can make in your own kitchen! Melt a little cocoa butter and shea butter if you have it, add some peppermint oil or tea tree oil and leave to set. The natural vitamin E content will give extra protection to the skin cells and help soften dry skin. Massage a small amount into your heels after a warm shower or bath… Simple self-care!

Cut up cocoa butter on a table with some cocoa powder

Cocoa butter may reduce associated symptoms of scar tissue

A small intervention study using cocoa butter to elicit healing benefits on scar tissue during massage treatment was published in the Journal of Burn Care & Rehabilitation. Twenty patients were randomly assigned to receive either cocoa butter massage to the affected region, or a control therapy. 5 weeks of twice weekly massage saw a reduction in itching, pain and anxiety as well as improved mood at the beginning and at the end of the sessions.

Does cocoa butter heal stretch marks?

This might be one of the most popular uses of cocoa butter to appear in the early 2000’s. I remember it being widely marketed to pregnant women as a remedy for stretch marks. Remember the moisturiser that had cocoa butter? It ensured we constantly smelled like a freshly baked pain au chocolat at all times. And then they made one with glitter… *sigh* 

Smelling like viennoiserie and looking like a fairy aside, does cocoa butter actually help stretch marks or like a lot of things health-related, are these claims an overstretch?? (... see what I did there, you’re welcome). 

The short answer is no. Many people have anecdotally reported that cocoa butter helps smooth the appearance of stretch marks. However the existing research doesn’t support this. Stretch marks have more to do with maternal nutrition and possibly genetic disposition than anything else. 

A multicentre, double-blind RCT study assessed whether cocoa butter or a placebo lotion reduced the development of striae gravidarum (stretch marks). The group of 175 women in their first trimester of pregnancy were assigned either lotion and instructed to apply it every day until they delivered their babies. At the end of the study, there was no significant difference in the development or severity of striae gravidarum between the test group and controls.

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Article References

Carmichael, S. L., Yang, W., & Shaw, G. M. (2010). Periconceptional nutrient intakes and risks of neural tube defects in California. Birth defects research. Part A, Clinical and molecular teratology, 88(8), 670–678. https://doi.org/10.1002/bdra.20675

da Costa, K. A., Kozyreva, O. G., Song, J., Galanko, J. A., Fischer, L. M., & Zeisel, S. H. (2006). Common genetic polymorphisms affect the human requirement for the nutrient choline. FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 20(9), 1336–1344. https://doi.org/10.1096/fj.06-5734com

Field, T., Peck, M., Scd, Hernandez-Reif, M., Krugman, S., Burman, I., & Ozment-Schenck, L. (2000). Postburn itching, pain, and psychological symptoms are reduced with massage therapy. The Journal of burn care & rehabilitation, 21(3), 189–193. https://doi.org/10.1067/mbc.2000.105087

Fioravanti, M., & Yanagi, M. (2005). Cytidinediphosphocholine (CDP-choline) for cognitive and behavioural disturbances associated with chronic cerebral disorders in the elderly. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (2), CD000269. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD000269.pub3

Oregon State University (2021). Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center, Other Nutrients, Choline. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/choline, viewed 3 Aug 2021

Osman, H., Usta, I. M., Rubeiz, N., Abu-Rustum, R., Charara, I., & Nassar, A. H. (2008). Cocoa butter lotion for prevention of striae gravidarum: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology, 115(9), 1138–1142. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2008.01796.x

Seem, S. A., Yuan, Y. V., & Tou, J. C. (2019). Chocolate and chocolate constituents influence bone health and osteoporosis risk. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 65, 74–84. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2019.02.011

Shaw, G. M., Carmichael, S. L., Yang, W., Selvin, S., & Schaffer, D. M. (2004). Periconceptional dietary intake of choline and betaine and neural tube defects in offspring. American journal of epidemiology, 160(2), 102–109. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwh187

Steinberg, F. M., Bearden, M. M., & Keen, C. L. (2003). Cocoa and chocolate flavonoids: implications for cardiovascular health. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 103(2), 215–223. https://doi.org/10.1053/jada.2003.50028
Wikipedia Contributors. (2021, August 1). Cocoa Butter. Retrieved from Wikipedia website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocoa_butter, viewed 1 August 2021