November 20, 2019, by Lexi Earl
Eating chocolate in the name of science!
The Future Food Beacon is currently leading a Prosperity Fund/Innovate UK funded project titled Controlling cocoa bean fermentation for enhanced chocolate flavour. The project draws together Colombian female farmers with a Nottingham bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates, working alongside our researchers to improve the flavour of chocolate.
The first harvest of cocoa took place in Colombia in May. Our farmers fermented the cocoa beans and surrounding pulp, and then dried them on the farms. Scientists, Dr Christopher Moore and Dr David Gopaulchan sampled the fermenting beans on the farms in Colombia, and are in the process of understanding what microbes are present in the fermentation, and what they do. Sacks of beans from each of the three farms were then shipped to the UK, arriving in Nottingham in September.
The beans from each farm have produced chocolate that is distinct in flavour, just like a fine wine. Luisa uses the same recipe, fineness of grind, and percentage of cocoa solids in each chocolate made from the three different farms, so that they can be compared for taste and flavour notes. The farms are situated in different locations in Colombia, with different terroirs but similar growing practices and fermentation processes. It is the distinctive terroir, alongside the fermentation process, that gives the chocolate its unique flavours. If we are able to control the fermentation process, we will be able to enhance the flavours that speak to the region where the cocoa is grown. In this way customers are able to detect citrus notes, florals like lavender or rose, smokiness, or tartness in these chocolates.
The next harvest is currently underway, our scientists are out in Colombia this week to sample the fermentation and the new harvest beans will be shipped to Luisa to make into chocolate too. We will then be able to compare the flavours of the chocolates from the different harvests.
On Friday October 18, customers in Nottingham were able to get a first taste of the Colombian chocolate. Luisa has been making 66% chocolate with the beans from the different farms and these are now ready to try (and purchase!) Over 60 people attended the tasting, which took place at Minor Oak and Luisa’s shop in Sneinton Market. Tasters were able to sample the three different chocolates, and then write their notes on tasting sheets provided. Each of the three chocolates has distinct flavours that tasters were able to notice, and this helps us profile these chocolate bars against future editions.
Having members of the public taste the chocolates, and provide feedback, is hugely useful for our research. Our tasters give us a benchmark against which we are able to measure future chocolate profiles. In doing so, they contribute to our research findings and intervention plans. This is why citizen science is so important.