July 18, 2018

What’s in that Halloween Candy?

While buying Halloween candy this year (and eating a few), I noticed a strange aftertaste in some milk chocolate products. I read the label and saw an acronym I had never seen before. PGPR, or polyglycerol polyricinoleate, is an emulsifier that is used as a substitute for some of the cocoa butter.

Halloween CandyCocoa butter is the compound in chocolate that must be in any product labeled “chocolate”. But it’s also expensive. So candy makers are using PGPR so they can use less cocoa butter and reduce the cost of their raw materials. This artificial ingredient has been used in commercially made candy bars since 2006, when the cost of soy lecithin, another chocolate candy ingredient additive, started increasing.

PGPR is a “goopy yellowish liquid” and is made from castor beans. It reduces the viscosity of chocolate to make the product smoother. It also acts as a preservative. The FDA has stated that PGPR is safe for human consumption, citing short term studies on rats and chicken. There was some “reversible liver enlargement” after the animals received high doses of the product, because of an increased hepatic workload. PGPR is on the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list and is allowed at levels up to 0.3% in “chocolate-type products”. Of course, products on the GRAS list have been removed from that list after further study. The safety evaluation was based on an estimated PGPR intake of 1.8 mg per kilogram of body weight per day for children and 0.8 mg/kg of body weight per day for adults.

One of the problems of this additive, like any other additive, is that it is replacing natural ingredients. Cocoa butter contains oleic acid, which is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, as well as stearic and palmitic acids, two types of saturated fat that are cholesterol neutral. In addition, cocoa butter contains antioxidants, and provides some of the flavor we enjoy in chocolate. Some people (like me) do notice an unpleasant aftertaste in candy made with PGPR.

You don’t need to be afraid of PGPR for health reasons. But if you want your chocolate pure and without artificial ingredients (and an off-putting aftertaste), read the label and choose candy made without this emulsifier or other additives.

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