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New test improves control of chocolate origins

A simple test of volatile compounds in chocolate may serve as chemical tracers to enable better traceability of cocoa and inform consumers of the countries of origin, say French researchers.

Aided by the high fat content of chocolate, which traps all but the most volatile of compounds, researchers from the Laboratoire de Chimie Analytique et Sciences de l'Aliment (IPHC-UMR 7178) in Illkirch report that identification of seven compounds that can be used as chemical tracers.

“The method described in this work (hydrodistillation, GC analysis, and statistic treatment) may improve the control of the geographical origin of chocolate during its long production process,” wrote the researchers, led by Christophe Marcic.

The analytical technique is said to integrate the entire production process for chocolate – from bean to processing to final product – and distinguishes between chocolate originating from the Caribbean, Madagascar, Africa, and South America.
“Consumers have no way of tracing the origin of the cocoa used to produce their chocolate to a particular country, much less a particular site of agricultural production,” explained the researchers.

“To determine the quality of chocolate and the veracity of labelling, consumers need to be informed of the cocoa production site’s country, even more with the rising market of ‘healthy chocolate’,” they added.

“The analysis of the volatile content and their statistical processing by multivariate analyses tended to form independent groups for both Africa and Madagascar, even if some of the chocolate samples analyzed appeared in a mixed zone together with those from America,” wrote the researchers.
“This analysis also allowed a clear separation between Caribbean chocolates and those from other origins.”

The French researchers identified seven compounds, which they proposed as tracers, including linalool and (E,E)-2,4-decadienal), for complete characterisation of the chocolate's geographical origin.

Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry2010, Volume 58, Issue 3, Pages 1478–1483, doi: 10.1021/jf903471e“Differentiation of Chocolates According to the Cocoa’s Geographical Origin Using Chemometrics”Authors: A. Cambrai, C. Marcic, S. Morville, P. Sau Houer, F. Bindler, E. Marchioni

The entire text of this article appeared on on February 10, 2010.

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Interesting use... we've been tinkering with over-conching very poor quality chocolate in a low pressure environment to remove as many of the volatile compounds as possible and then using mass spec and other datas from high quality chocolate to introduce prefered compounds.

This would allow for the far more economic use of hardy plants to produce exceptional products as well as allowing the chocolate makers to improve consistency and to basically build the profiles they seek. Finally, I have heard considerable, informal talk, over the course of discussing indiginous Australian fruits, that the amount of environmental abuse a plant endures is directly relational to the health benefits it provides as specific phenolic compounds are developed in the plant's healing process (analogous to the rebuilding of muscle after working out) so use of typically viewed inferior beans from more durable strains could offer additional health benefits (I could care less about that, I'd still eat chocolate if every 100g bar was equal to 10 packs of smokes). Especially since roasting, much less extensive roasting would not be required to get rid of all those foul flavors.

How long until chocolate has a percentage followed by a list of trademarked names for desirable hydro-carbons? ;)
This is easily the nerdiest view of chocolate I have personally come across, and the nerd in me (easily 3/4 or better) is quite interested.

This makes me wonder - do these compounds define much of the flavor that we would normally associate from the terroir? Also, do you think this could lead to synthesizing realistic fine chocolate?

Further, has there been any research to discover the chemical nature of the production process as it relates to flavor and aroma? For example, ferment and roast both lend much to the final flavor profiles of Domori and Pralus chocolates, respectively. I wonder whether there has been any research into what chemicals come from these processes that yield such distinct products.

Over all, this was very interesting.
Similar techniques have been in use with coffee for some time, and they do help discipline the marketplace by providing third-party confirmation of origin. In the case of coffee I know they're able to get very discreet data (even down to identifying an individual farm's chemical signature), so it'll be interesting to see how this methodology gets applied to cacao and chocolate.
...and to see how much people can modify the flavor or chemical profile of beans from one origin X with fermenting microbes from another region Y to see how close they can get both profiles closer to those of region Y.


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