A bunch of chocolate
Chocolate has been around for thousands of years. Although I can’t imagine how chocolate could improve, chocolatiers are still experimenting with new ways to create new types and flavors of chocolate to keep our taste buds titillated. Now a new way to process cocoa beans has been published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Could our favorite food be improved by science?
So how is chocolate made?
In the conventional process, cocoa beans are harvested, traditionally covered with banana leaves and left to ferment. During this time, the microbes break down the pulp surrounding the beans, heating them up and acidifying them. This process is important because the biochemical changes that occur in the beans reduce bitterness and astringency and help develop the flavors and aromas we associate with chocolate. However, this traditional mode of fermentation can be difficult to master and takes several days.
To make chocolate, the beans are roasted, shelled (winnowed), then ground into a cocoa paste. This paste is then pressed and separated into cocoa butter and defatted cocoa paste. The defatted cocoa paste is then pulverized into cocoa powder. All chocolate contains cocoa butter, but to make different types of chocolate, a few key ingredients are changed. Dark chocolate contains sugar and cocoa powder. Adding milk makes it milk chocolate. Omitting cocoa powder creates white chocolate. A fourth type of chocolate, called ruby chocolate, is made the same way as white chocolate but uses unfermented cocoa beans, which retain their pinkish hues.
So, what does “wet incubated” chocolate taste like?
But does the new method pass the taste test? A group of sensory panelists (and yes, that’s real work) tasted chocolate bars made using the new wet incubation method, the traditional ferment, along with unfermented beans as a control. Moist-incubated chocolate had higher intensities of “fruity, flowery, malty, and caramel” flavors than traditional fermented chocolate, which had higher “toasted” notes. Chocolate made from unfermented beans had a predominantly “green” aroma. Humidity-incubated samples also scored highest for the sweetest taste, while unfermented chocolate was the most bitter and astringent.
Aromatic compounds were identified using gas chromatography (GC)-olfactometry – which extracts and separates single aromatic compounds – and quantified using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC- MS), which measures the levels of separate chemical compounds. This confirmed the presence of higher levels of malty compounds called Strecker’s aldehydes and lower levels of roasted compounds called pyrazines in wet incubated chocolate compared to traditionally fermented chocolate.
In a boon to sweet snackers around the world, using this faster, more controlled “wet incubation” process to ferment cocoa beans, can produce high-quality chocolate with unmistakable aromas and tastes. traditional but pleasant. Researchers suggest that producing naturally sweeter chocolate means adding less sugar. It’s not quite a health food yet, but we’re sure science won’t stop trying.
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