A new study found that warmer, drier weather had a larger effect on the flavor compounds in cocoa beans than other factors.
Weather affects how a plant grows (obviously); if things get too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry, those tomatoes in your backyard will inevitably die. But teasing out how weather affects the flavors in a plant is trickier: The variables are more subtle, the sweet spot tougher to identify. In the wine world, a vineyard owner might attribute a good vintage to a certain breeze or a specific period or sun. So what about with chocolate? A team of European researchers set out to determine how different growing conditions affected the flavor of the resulting cocoa beans and came to a somewhat stunning conclusion: adverse weather like heat and dryness may actually increase the amount of flavor compounds in chocolate.
As the authors of the study wrote, “Cocoa beans are produced all across the humid tropics under different environmental conditions provided by the region but also by the season and the type of production system.” Specifically, two systems tend to be used: agroforestry, which surrounds cocoa trees with other types of vegetation to help provide shade, lower the temperature and enhance the soil, and “monocultural” groves, which simply maximize the number of cocoa trees. Looking at five farms around Bolivia, the researchers observed that, all weather conditions being equal, the resulting beans had an insignificant difference in chemical composition regardless of which of the two systems they were raised in. Meanwhile, the weather played a more significant role: As the temperature rose and soil moisture decreased, the amount of phenols and other antioxidants compounds which contribute to a chocolates flavor increased. “The researchers say these differences could contribute to variability in cocoa bean flavor,” the American Chemical Society (ACS) wrote in a release.
Though you can certainly draw your own conclusions from these findings, the ACS postulated that “’Stressed out’ cocoa trees could produce more flavorful chocolate,” insinuating that these additional compounds added during bad weather might make chocolate better. However, Modern Farmer decided to take this hypothesis one additional step: Seeing as higher temperatures and less rain are potential results of climate change, the site wondered in its title, “Could Climate Change Lead to Tastier Chocolate?” Admittedly, it’s a bit of a jump, but hey, when it comes to global warming, we might as well look for every small silver lining we can find.