December 6, 2019, by Carla Froggatt
London gathering to sample Colombian chocolates made in Nottingham
On December 5, the Prosperity Fund Colombia hosted a chocolate tasting at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Featuring chocolate made by Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates from our Future Food Beacon cocoa project, this was an exciting evening showcasing the real impact of science on people’s lives.
The project, titled ‘Controlling cocoa bean fermentation for enhanced chocolate flavour’, connects Colombian female cocoa farmers with Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates, and University of Nottingham scientists making use of cutting-edge technology in the field, to better understand the cocoa fermentation process.
Traditionally, cocoa beans are fermented on-farm, by the farmers, in a largely uncontrolled process that leads to variety in flavour of the dried cocoa beans. The Future Food Beacon is pioneering in-field sampling techniques, using technology from the Nanopore MinION, to sample the microbes present in the fermentation, and then sequence the findings. This will allow scientists to understand the role of different microbes in the fermentation process, and develop a picture of the microbiome of a cocoa fermentation. Eventually this scientific knowledge will help farmers to better control the flavour that is produced through fermentation, allowing them to sell their beans on the ‘super-premium’ chocolate market.
The chocolate market is currently divided into ‘bulk’ and ‘fine/flavour’ cocoa and Colombia produces just under 1% of the world’s fine/flavour cocoa beans. These beans are sought after by bean-to-bar makers because the chocolate produced has intense, complex flavours and aromas. Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates is committed to paying farmers at the super-premium price point, benefiting the Colombian farmers financially while bringing these unique chocolate flavours to the UK market.
The first harvest of Colombian cocoa beans have been turned into delicious 66% chocolate bars by Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates and it was these bars that were sampled at the chocolate tasting.
As with guests at our chocolate tasting in Nottingham, guests at the Prosperity Fund event were invited to fill out tasting notes, so that Luisa and the Future Food Beacon can collate information on different perceptions of chocolate flavours and weigh this information against the further two harvests of the project – chocolate from which will be available in 2020.
Prof David Salt commented:
“The Colombia chocolate tasting event was a great success, attended by many influential people including the Colombia ambassador to the UK, and the UK ambassador to Colombia, who spoke at the event. We were able to highlight all the female cocoa farmers we work with, along with the great chocolate Luisa makes from their beans. In my presentation, and during discussions with attendees, I was able to emphasise both the impact our research is having on the science behind chocolate but also, and perhaps more importantly, the direct positive financial impact we are enabling for the female cocoa farmers by connecting them directly with a premium chocolate maker in the UK who pays at least 2.5 times the normal rate for cocoa beans that would be sold into the ‘bulk’ cocoa bean trade.”
The project is important because it brings new technology to rural, female farmers in Colombia, a conflict-affected region, allowing them to develop skills that will enhance their productivity and contribute to their economic independence. The project helps open up the UK market for Colombia cocoa producers, while also providing opportunities for UK agri-tech businesses in Colombia. Most importantly for the Future Food Beacon and the University of Nottingham, the project provides an opportunity to develop in-field sampling techniques furthering our scientific knowledge while also participating in social justice and global development.