By the time chocolate makes it to your mouth, you probably aren’t thinking about the fact that it’s actually a fermented product. But long before it’s made into bars, the raw cocoa beans undergo fermentation, and scientists are now beginning to discover that this underappreciated yeasty step might be more important than you think.
Back in July, a team of researchers from The University of Leuven and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology published a paper suggesting that selecting specific yeasts for use in the fermentation of cocoa beans could not only result in better quality chocolate than those created through the traditional processes of natural fermentation, but might also make it possible to use different yeasts “to create a whole range of specialty chocolates to match everyone’s favorite flavor.”
Now, a mere four months later, that same team has started turning those promises of unique new chocolates a reality. In another very sweet paper with a very dry title – “Tuning chocolate flavor through development of thermotolerant Saccharomyces cerevisiae starter cultures with increased acetate ester production” – these devoted chocolate scientists have shown that, indeed, different yeasts can alter the aroma and flavor of chocolate by creating different esters which change the final scent of the product. “We were initially surprised that the volatile flavor compounds are retained in the beans during drying and roasting,” Esther Meersman, one of the paper’s authors, said in a statement. But the team proved that identical coca beans fermented with different yeasts did yield chocolates with different properties.