Q: What is PGPR—and what is it doing in my chocolate bar?
A: If you buy mass-market chocolate candy, you might spot PGPR in the ingredients list. It stands for polyglycerol polyricinoleate (no wonder companies use the abbreviation).
Consisting of glycerol and fatty acids typically derived from castor beans, PGPR is an emulsifier that reduces viscosity, thereby enhancing flow properties in chocolate production. Since 2006, manufacturers, including Hershey and Mars, have increasingly been using PGPR as a much-cheaper substitute for some of the cocoa butter in their formulations, usually together with lecithin, another emulsifier. PGPR also increases shelf life and can be found in other products, like some salad dressings and spreads.
PGPR is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA. Even the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group that stringently reviews the safety of food additives, gives PGPR a green check, meaning it “appears to be safe.”
This ingredient is thus probably not something to be concerned about health-wise, but chocolate purists bemoan its presence in their bars—along with that of other cheap additives such as palm oil, corn syrup, maltitol (in “sugar-free” versions), and artificial flavors. There’s even a Facebook group called “Take PGPR out of Chocolate.”
Though they cost a lot more, organic and artisan chocolates tend to use higher-quality ingredients and have fewer additives (with the exception of lecithin, which most chocolate still contains).
Also see How to Find the Healthiest Chocolate.