More and more, I’m realizing that I should have attempted to get some sort of science degree in college. Mostly because it seems like the perfect opportunity to bounce an idea off your biologist co-workers like, “How can we screw around with candy all day?” and then have the results published in a legitimate journal. Like these Belgian researchers, whose work with chocolate was featured in the American Society for Microbiology’s December issue.
They partnered with Barry Callebaut, a Swiss cocoa bean producer, to test out a way to improve on chocolate production right at the start. It involves a super strain of yeast that dominates the cocoa bean fermentation process — which, in its initial stages, is largely uncontrollable in terms of flavor. Generally a bucket full of shucked cocoa pods takes on the aromatics of the place where they’re being stored and dried, and prior to now, that was unavoidable.
In terms of making the perfect bar of chocolate, a yeast enforcer that kills invading microbes from embittering your candy is of course far less impressive sounding than a chocolate waterfall. Or a chocolate shrink ray. Or a singing and dancing labor froce. Wonka metaphors aside, the results of the Belgian study mean that chocolate can now become as snooty as wine or beer in terms of flavor “bouquet.”
“This means that for the first time, chocolate makers have a broad portfolio of different yeast strains that are all producing different flavors,” says Jan Steensels, a postdoctoral researcher.
Hybrid yeast strains created by the scientists didn’t evaporate from the cocoa during the fermentation and drying stages, which means the flavor is still there, trapped in the fats of the dead beans before they’re roasted and processed into chocolate. So, sometime soon, companies can really begin overcharging for a box of chocolate truffles, because they’ve essentially been created from magic beans.
Also soon: Endless conversations you don’t want to have about which micro-processed candy is better.