In the near future, chocolate lovers may have a cornucopia of subtle new flavors to enjoy.
Writing in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers from Belgium, a country known for it’s chocolate, say that different yeasts used in the fermentation stage of chocolate production impart different flavors and aromas to the final product.
This is similar to beer brewing or wine making.
"This makes it possible to create a whole range of boutique chocolates to match everyone's favorite flavor, similar to wines, tea, and coffee," says Jan Steensels, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leuven, and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology.
The researchers were initially looking for “robust” strains of yeast that could outduel other, unwanted strains during the fermentation process.
"After harvesting, the cocoa beans are collected in large plastic boxes, or even piled in large heaps on the soil, right in the farms where they are grown," explained Esther Meersman, a postdoctoral researcher with Steensels.
During fermentation, the beans are “surrounded by a gooey pulp, which is fermented by yeasts and bacteria,” the researchers said, and this allows other yeasts and bacteria to infiltrate and possibly change the flavor in an unwanted way.
Adding strong yeasts would reduce the viability of invaders, they said.
What they found was that each strain of robust yeast imparted different characteristics to the chocolate, even when using the same recipe.
The different flavors remained even after drying and roasting the fermented beans.
"This means that for the first time, chocolate makers have a broad portfolio of different yeast strains that are all producing different flavors," says Steensels. "This is similar to the current situation in beer brewing and wine making."