Chocolate’s Future Is Ours To Write, Within Limits



sethi_breadwinechocolate_3dWe are among those hoping that the future of chocolate is tastier, but we thankfully missed the mistaken headlines highlighted in this story below (thanks to the salt at National Public Radio, USA). So no false hopes dashed, but we pass this along in the interest of science. And to highlight an author who has recently come to our attention. A couple of us who contribute here have a copy of Simran Sethi’s book Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love (click to the right to go to there) on our nightstand currently; she also podcasts on the topic of chocolate over at The Slow Melt (click above to go there).

Sorry Folks, Climate Change Won’t Make Chocolate Taste Better


A cocoa farmer opens cacao pods with a stick to collect cocoa beans at his farm in Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eduardo Soteras/AFP/Getty Images

Two years ago, news headlines blared, “Cheese really is crack,” citing research that was widely misinterpreted as asserting cheese was addictive. Now, it’s chocolate’s turn.

Last week, several publications celebrated a new study that highlights the impacts of climate change on cocoa, stating global warming might make chocolate taste better. “Good news, chocolate-lovers,” wrote one outlet, “climate change may have a silver lining.”

Sadly, it’s not true.

Wiebke Niether, the lead researcher of the study (published in the Journal of Agriculture And Food Chemistry) stresses, “We did not … show that climate change may offer opportunities to produce chocolate with a better taste.”

Instead, what they found was evidence that climate change impacts the production of fat and minerals in cacao (the pod-shaped fruit whose seeds become cocoa and chocolate) that, in turn, influence both nutritional value and flavor.

But the compounds the researchers focused on aren’t going to boost the tastes we want, explains Darin Sukha, a research fellow and food technologist at the University of the West Indies’ Cocoa Research Centre who studies how various factors and environments impact cocoa flavor.

His external assessment of the new study reinforces Niether’s response: “Drought is not going to make better-tasting cocoa.”

The researchers focused on how water stress impacts phenolic compounds, natural antioxidants that are also associated with flavor. The amount of these compounds, the researchers found, increased during the dry season. But, Sukha clarifies, the compounds the researchers focused on “are limited to bitter and astringent flavors. They have none of the positive and ancillary flavors that are more strongly linked to cocoa fermentation and drying that are expressed during roasting.”

Niether and a team of German and Swiss researchers have spent the last nine years growing cacao to understand the nuances of how climate change impacts cocoa in rainy and dry seasons, grown under different kinds of conditions: 1) in full sun as a monoculture, grown both conventionally (with synthetic chemicals) and organically; 2) as part of a diversified agroforestry system, in which other trees and shrubs are interspersed between both conventional and organic cacao; and 3) as a full-tilt eco-friendly system, in which organic cacao trees are grown within an agroforestry system rich in biodiversity.

Monika Schneider, a member of the research team based at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland, says the group’s goal is to run trials for at least 20 years to determine how to create greater resilience in the crop and better understand how different growing systems impact the chemical composition of cocoa beans…

Read the whole story here.

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