These Popular Chocolate Brands Have Reportedly Been Found to Contain Toxic Metals

Updated: Jan. 19, 2023

Lead and cadmium are common in dark chocolate, so it's important to understand what levels are tolerable.

For many consumers, chocolate is truly one of the little joys of life. Even better, time and again dark chocolate has been proven to be a healthier candy option, thanks to its high antioxidant and low sugar contents.

So, in the wake of a December 2022 Consumer Reports story that revealed several brands of dark chocolate contained lead and cadmium, panic ensued.

Here’s everything you need to know about heavy metals in chocolates, including which brands contain notable levels of the metals, how dangerous those levels are and which brands can be trusted moving forward.

How Were the Levels of Lead and Cadmium Tested?

Consumer Reports tested 28 different brands of chocolate bars (typically 1.5 to 3.5 ounces), from small lesser-known brands like Alter Eco and Hu to corporate giants like Ghirardelli, Lindt, Trader Joe’s and Hershey’s.

Now, all of the chocolates contained some level of lead or cadmium. However, 23 of the bars raised the alarm bell: if someone were to consume just one ounce a day, they would exceed the maximum allowable dose levels (MADL) for lead and cadmium, as defined by California’s Prop 65 as 0.5 micrograms and 4.1 micrograms, respectively.

California’s MADL regulations are the most protective in the country and currently, there are no federal limits for how much lead or cadmium a food can contain.

Which Brands Are Affected?

The following brands contained the highest levels of lead, cadmium or both, as expressed in a percentage of the MADL supplied in 1 ounce of the dark chocolate.

Top 5 Highest in Lead

  1. Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate (265%)
  2. Chocolove Extremely Dark Chocolate 88% Cocoa (240%)
  3. Hu Organic Simple Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao (210%)
  4. Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao (192%)
  5. Endangered Species Bold and Silky Dark Chocolate 72% Cocoa (181%)

Top 5 Highest in Cadmium

  1. Pascha Organic Very Dark Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao (253%)
  2. Alter Eco Organic Dark Chocolate Classic Blackout 85% Cacao (204%)
  3. Beyond Good Organic Pure Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa (138%)
  4. Scharffen Berger Extra Dark Chocolate 82% Cacao (136%)
  5. Equal Exchange Organic Extra Dark Chocolate 80% Cacao (120%)

Top 5 Highest in Lead and Cadmium

  1. Trader Joe’s the Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate 85% Cacao (127% lead, 229% cadmium)
  2. Theo Organic Extra Dark Pure Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa (140% lead, 189% cadmium)
  3. Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao (143% lead, 181% cadmium)
  4. Theo Organic Pure Dark 70% Cocoa (120% lead, 142% cadmium)
  5. Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate 85% Cocoa (143% lead, 101% cadmium)

How Dangerous Is It to Eat These Brands?

Assortment of fine chocolate candiesAnnaPustynnikova/Getty Images

Significant exposure to lead can damage the brain and nervous system, as well as slow development and growth in children. Significant exposure to cadmium can lead to lung cancer, birth defects and harm to the reproductive system. The key word here, though, is “significant,” and experts seem to agree that while it’s wise to be mindful of these metal levels, it is not necessary to remove chocolate from your diet altogether.

The National Confectioner’s Association (NCA) explained:”Chocolate and cocoa are safe to eat and can be enjoyed as treats as they have been for centuries. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) guidelines cited in the Consumer Reports study are not food safety standards.”

They go on to explain that through their own prior Prop 65 settlement, they have proven that cadmium and lead are present in chocolate due to the soil the beans are grown in and that levels from Consumer Reports are “well below the limits established” by the NCA, according to spokesperson Christopher Gindlesberger.

In an interview with NPR, Johns Hopkins toxicologist Andrew Stolbach affirms that the MADLs cited by Consumer Reports are “very conservative.” This is to account for those at higher risk, due to old age or preexisting conditions. He concludes, “The safety levels for lead and cadmium are set to be very protective, and going above them by a modest amount isn’t something to be concerned about.”

Which Brands Are Safer to Eat?

If you’d like to be extra cautious, Consumer Reports highlighted the following brands as safer dark chocolate options, based on their low lead and cadmium levels.

  1. Mast Organic Dark Chocolate 80% Cocoa (14% lead, 40% cadmium)
  2. Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate 86% Cacao (36% lead, 39% cadmium)
  3. Taza Chocolate Organic Deliciously Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao (33% lead, 74% cadmium)
  4. Valhrona Abinao Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao (63% lead, 73% cadmium)
  5. Ghirardelli Intense Dark Chocolate Twilight Delight 72% Cacao (61% lead, 96% cadmium)

What Else Can I Do?

Additionally, to ensure any heavy metals you may consume are less likely to be absorbed, Strombach recommends eating a balanced diet rich in calcium and iron. These minerals have been proven to fight lead poisoning.

In short, it is definitely possible to continue eating dark chocolate, but is worth considering which brands you consume, ensuring you are eating reasonable portion sizes and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle overall. Happy snacking!