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The Science of Chocolate


The Science of Chocolate

Are you interested in all the nitty gritty details of cacao and chocolate - genetics, geopolitics, agronomy, taxonomy, and the like? Then this is the group to join to take a deep dive into chocolate.

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Latest Activity: Dec 10

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Discussion Forum

Adjusting the process for flavors

Started by Jason Walter. Last reply by Jason Walter Nov 21. 8 Replies

Micrometers - Measuring particles

Started by Christian Tyler. Last reply by Daniel Haran Oct 31. 2 Replies

Comment Wall


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Comment by Sharron Harper on April 20, 2011 at 6:21pm
Whoohoooo!  The science of chocolate.  What could be better!  I am not a scientist but my chocolate making partner is.  I can't wait to show her this site.  If she says anything smart, I will let you know.  I am planning to go to the indigenous areas of Costa Rica soon to see the trees that produce our cacao.  I am assuming they will be the criollo variety.  But, I am wondering if there are other varieties there also.  I will post a report, and hopefully some photos, upon my return.
Comment by Kristina on December 28, 2010 at 5:50am

I just post the link to the news about cacao genome

Data of theobroma cacao genome

hoping more competent members will comment on this.

Comment by Harry Way on November 14, 2010 at 10:09am
Specific Capacity for heat of Chocolate

Anthony - what are you looking for? Value or explanation? I have a value of 1.46 kJ/kg/°K for milk chocolate, this value was determined by one the large confectionary companies here in USA. and would be for a Chocolate with about 31% fat, 50% sugar, 10% milk powder.
I also have a table for various fats if you need it, which gives the specific capacity of heat for cocoa butter at 2.12 kJ/kg/°K at 60°C
Comment by Frank Homann on November 13, 2010 at 1:56pm

Very sorry if I offended your emotions around Brazilian cocoa. I am sure that the beans from your farm are indeed excellent. I know a couple of excellent chocolates that have been made with specific Brazilian beans. I (yes, humbly, sort of) apologize. My comment wasn´t directed at your beans, but was meant as a rather general comment on the market for bulk beans.

You surely didn´t mean that all 180,000 tons of Brazilian cocoa are excellent? As far as I know at least 99% of Brazilian cocoa is sold as bulk cocoa. Bulk is bulk because there is no noticeable differenciation. This may be fair or not, but as one mass-market chocolate company man once commented to me "cocoa butter" is "cocoa butter". Doesn´t matter where the beans come from, Ivory coast or Brazil. We can sing our national hymns as much as we want, but it doesn´t make our cocoa beans taste better. Consumers and hence cocoa buyers vote with their money.

"National pride" emotions are actually, I believe, damaging to all cocoa bean suppliers, because the ultimate claim is that all beans are excellent. All cats are grey. Which of course means that no beans are excellent an no-one receives a premium for a better flavour product.

We are actually not adversaries, but on the same page. We want to make a better product that we can sell to buyers at a better price.

Your forastero beans may be good. Nacional is for example a sub-set of a forastero, and many Nacional beans are very interesting indeed. CCN-51 is not a very good bean, flavour wise, if you ask me (sorry CCN-51 farmers out there, but this is just what chocolate and bean buyers vote for with their money). But we know very little about the varieties. I think it is useful to be a bit broad and generalizing at times, simply because a more complex message is impossible to get across to consumers. And one great challenge bean suppliers has is to educate consumers.

Genes or terroir? Both probably. We just happen to believe that genes are much more important than terroir. Bad genes + good terrorir doesn´t make fine cocoa. Can forasteros be good? Yes, of course. Some can be differentiated from others. Ghana beans can be very chocolatey and can form a good base for a blend for a good bar, for example. But they are just not as complex and interesting as many Trinitarios. You can agree or not, but in the end consumers and chocolate makers vote with their money. Trinidad beans sell for $5 to $6 a kg. (open sources). Ghana beans?

You called us a "3rd party promoter", but what does that mean? We have more than 1m Trinitario/Criollo trees under management contracts with outgrowers. We invested in identifying the best genetic material and then undertook the largest grafting operation in the history of cocoa. We transplant the plants and provide all technical assistance and commercialization to our farmers. Does that make us "another 3rd party promoter"? I actually don´t know of anyone who has tried this before. If our outgrowers were to represent themselves, first of all they would not have fine cocoa but bulk (98% of all cocoa in Central America today is bulk and none is sold as fine), and even if they had fine cocoa, they would not be able to excersise much power -- no marketing or even ability to reach out to the gourmet markets. A dispersed supplier base, with lots of emotional flag-brandishing in-fighting, just results in low power to growers. More power to the buyers = lower prices for cocoa beans and no industry development. It may be a (twisted?) romantic notion to have hundreds of thousands of individual cocoa farmers going to market by themselves, but neither realistic nor good, I (humbly) believe.

Xoco´s trees are not identical genetically, btw, but come from 2,000 or so different "mother-trees", all Trinitarios/Criollos, distributed among five different fenotypes. So much more diverse than, say, CCN-51. I have never heard anyone thinking that CCN-51 is a menace? Where do they have mono-clones in cocoa anyway? In vitro reproduction hasn´t been applied in any practical way, so mono-clones, I suspect, only exist in clonal gardens. Cocoa trees morph all the time. Also, all trees are hit to some degree by monilia, if there is a lot of humidity in the farms. I don´t know much about whitches broom but I assume that not only one variety of trees are hit? All trees have problems with ants or root fungus. Or squirrels. So is your argument based on actual facts, or, has it just been an emotional morning in Brazil? :)

Jim, if you want to improve the flavour of cocoa, you can´t ignore genes. Just like in, say, apples, there are different varieties of cocoa, in fact many many varieties. Why the opposition to trying to figure out which ones are more interesting flavour-wise than others? Why cling to the status quo? Or do we in fact agree, emotions aside? I like Brazil, think it is a great country with many excellent people. It probably has some good cocoa too. Just not a lot, today. :)
Comment by Mann Made Chocolate on November 13, 2010 at 11:42am
@Jim - very interesting commentary! Thanks! I'm enjoying learning about this by reading the differing points of view.
Comment by Jim on November 13, 2010 at 11:27am
I read your comments regarding cacau quality....

I'm surprised that you took the "artistic license" to condemn Brazilian cacau. You are invited to take a look at the recent results of CIRAD, ICCO, Mars,Cargill and others that sponsored the Cocoa of Excellence at the Salon du Chocolate in Paris. The winner of the South American entries was Joao Tavares, with forestero beans. You can take a look at his award at

Our farm which also produces forestero beans was also awarded certificates for Cacau of Excellence.

To paraphrase your comments " But just claiming something without any facts to support it, is of course rather absurd and only contributes to the general confusion" holds true for your long winded explanations as to why your cacau is superior to others. I don't know how long you have been in this business but it would serve you well to enroll in a couple of humility classes. The cacau industry is filled with farms and farmers that are devoted to quality cacau and deserve to be respected.

I did not gather that you are a cocoa farmer and your xoco video lead me to believe that you are another 3rd party promoter intent on using the true farmer as a means to an end.

By the way....good luck on using "monoclonal" practices when a disease hits that is partial to the single genetic traits. It's been tried before and ended in disaster. Genetic diversity is required to maintain long term cacau production in any region.

Good luck with your adventure!
Comment by Mann Made Chocolate on November 13, 2010 at 11:16am
@Frank Homann writes "Hope this was helpful." Yes! It was! Great commentary. Thank you!
Comment by Anthony Lange on November 13, 2010 at 8:08am
Can anyone comment on the Specific Heat Capacity of Chocolate?
Comment by Frank Homann on November 12, 2010 at 1:18pm
To John and Xinhong regarding differences between bean types/tree varieties and regional or farm origin labelling: This question is at the center of a lot of confusion among chocolate makers and consumers alike.

In my company, Xoco (, we are inclined towards the belief that gene types of trees are the determining factor for flavour and aroma of the beans. Conditions, such as altitude, sunshine, rainfall and soil, have some influence on flavour and aroma but it seems to be relatively small. This is at least the experience from Central America, and I hear from colleagues in Trinidad and Venezuela that they have made the same observations. However, there are thousands of different tree types/varieties of cocoa. Cocoa trees tend to morph, principally because of the way that they are planted (with seeds transported either by animals or humans) and how the seeds come from crossings of neighboring trees. A much debated example is the so-called Nacional of Ecuador. Apparently, 100 years ago, Nacional was one tree variety (or at least, if not genetically identical, a group of trees with relatively similar characteristics and therefore similar flavour and aroma), but recently I heard that more than a 100 "Nacional" varieties can be found in Ecuador today. Likewise with "Criollos" and "Trinitarios". Within these broad categories there are hundreds if not thousands of different tree varieties. Each probably with very or at least different flavour and aroma. In Central America we identified some 20 different varieties with Trinitario genes. When doing micro-fermentation on their beans, we found that they each were very different in flavour/aroma. Some were rather "flat" and un-interesting, others vibrant, complex, fruity, nutty and intense. As a general trait we find that trees with forastero genes, produce beans that even when well fermented, tend to be "flat", earthy and simple. Which is not bad for most chocolate, but not good for 70% dark chocolate that aims to be "gourmet".

Is a bean from a "Criollo" tree better than a "Trinitario" bean? The question is very broad and impossible to answer. As noted below there a perhaps thousands of different Triniatario trees that produce beans that are different in flavour and aroma. Some are not so good, others really really interesting. In my experience, Criollo-like beans produce flavours that are relatively mild and complex in a very subtle way. Flowery notes the more Criollo, and nutty notes the more "Trinitario". Trinitario beans, on the other hand, tend to have a stronger, more intense, profile. They generally tend to be "fruity" and sometimes "nutty".

Today, as we are in the very early phases of getting to understand flavour and aroma and the causes, few chocolate manufacturers write about the tree variety they have used for their chocolate, except in very general terms like "Criollo" and "Trinitario". Only Hacienda San Jose in Venezuela have single-tree varieties, so when Domori, for example, makes a chocolate with Ocumeare 61, it means they have used beans from a single tree variety (again not identical trees, but trees with similar genetic characteristics, hereunder physcial pod characteristics (fenotypes if you want)). This tree variety they call a "recent Criollo" (CIRAD calls them "modern Criollos") which means that they are somewhere along the scale from the Criollo benchmark (the so-called "Criollo-13" from a clonal garden collection, I believe) -- they could also be called Trinitarios as they are in fact not "pure" relative to the benchmark, but we are here down to relatively useless semantics, really.

Most farms that deliver "fine cocoa beans" have a mixed bag of trees, ranging from trees close to the Criollo benchmark to forasteros. This is the case of Chuao farms, for instance. In Chuao there are some 37 different tree varieties. "Porcelana" farms in Venezuela also have many tree varieties. In Trinidad, most farms have a mix of ICS clones (I believe a 100 varieties were chosen, originally). My guess is that this is true for most "Trinitario" plantations in the Caribbean as well. What does that mean? Well, for one, they will probably not deliver a consistent flavour/aroma profile of beans. It will depend on the random mix of beans from different trees that were ready for one particular fermentation batch. The fermentation is often stadardized, in Chuao for instance it is always 5 days with a set number of turns, but as different bean varieties will need slightly different fermentation protocols, the end result will often be that some beans were well fermented, others under-fermented and again others over-fermented. This again will affect the flavour/aroma of the fermentation batch. I think beans from specific farms will tend to have a profile, but not always. I was, for instance, told a story that the french chocolate society had one of their chief cuppers do a blind-folded test of the same fermentation batch of beans from Chuao -- first he couldn´t identify the origin, secondly he couldn´t identify that the samples were from the same batch/origin. So, randomness probably prevails.

Country-origin is in my opinion close to useless. Most beans coming from Venezuela and Ecuador, for example, are forastero beans, mostly flat and astringent stuff that is used for making cocoa butter that is identical to the butter that comes out of, for example, The Ivory Coast or Indonesia or Brazil. Producer organizations, like the ICCO, contribute to the widely held myth that country-origin means anything. If tou ask producers in Ecuador, for example, if they think they produce fine cocoa, they will answer yes, hoping that myth = making more money. But just claiming something without any facts to support it, is of course rather absurd and only contributes to the general confusion.

This is today, and the historical reason/the logic of the market, is that interest in finer flavours of chocolate is a relatively recent phaenomenon. After the 2nd ww, chocolate itself was a luxury commodity. "Fine chocolate" was = filled chocolates. Today, consumer have much more purchasing power and have taken an interest in finer foods. Specialty coffee, high end wine, luxury cheeses, micro-brewed beers, etc. are all good examples of this consumer trend. In chcolate this is starting, but it hasn´t reached a point where feedback has been trickled down to producers of cocoa beans. Part of that feedback has to be pretty hard: Producers paying substantial premiums to get farmers to invest time, money and general efforts into fine cocoa. Because it is not easy to do on the producer end. You need to identify which varieties really are the best ones. Then you need to reproduce these varieties through resource-intensive and difficult techniques like grafting trees. Then you need to re-plant on your land and wait for about 3 years before you have the first production and wait another 4 years before you reach peak production. So it is a long-term business plan for farmers who mostly are small-holders and have a very short-term business horizon, often associated with serving basic needs.

But, to summarize: Consumers CAN tell the difference. The chocolate manufacturers that can actually name the tree varieties and/or the haciendas where the beans they use come from, sell their chocolate at substantially higher prices than manufacturers who can´t or who can just say that they are "organic" (no influence on flavour) or "fair trade" (absolutely no influence on flavour, rather an indication that the bean quality was poor and the farmers had to appeal for a better price, pointing to the fact that their product is of poor quality and that they, the farmers, themselves are poor and need the money (one step up from begging!)).

Hope this was helpful. As the industry is emerging, and there seems to be a bad divorce between cocoa scientists, NGOs, producer organizations, and market players, there are few answers that are thoroughly fact-based and many efforts to improve flavours are done on a trial- and error basis. But I think we are only seeing the beginning and that the future is promosing for producers and consumers alike. I think we will see more variety, hereunder more heirloom varieties, and more conscious consumers. Not everyone will always want the high-end chocolates. But the ones who do, will be better at knowing what to look for and they will hopefully also be able to find it as the cocoa bean industry evolves.
Comment by Nat on November 9, 2010 at 6:55am
From my friend Lisa, here's a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine that bolsters the case for the benefits of cacao, attached. Interesting methodology and significant risk reduction among high-consuming groups.

Below is the comment / conclusion, to cut to the chase:

The data from this prospective cohort study of elderly women are the first, to our knowledge, to show an association between chocolate consumption and carotid atherosclerotic plaque prevalence and provide further evidence that chocolate intake may be protective against atherosclerotic vascular disease events. These data also suggest that weekly chocolate consumption may be as effective as daily consumption to obtain the cardiovascular benefit, since we found similar risk reductions of 24% among daily and weekly chocolate consumers. Furthermore, the association between atherosclerotic plaque prevalence but not CCA-IMT suggests that the effect of habitual chocolate consumption may be primarily on ischemic heart disease risk rather than cerebrovascular disease risk, which is more strongly associated with CCA-IMT.8 The observed association between chocolate consumption and atherosclerotic vascular disease is from a prospective study and as such cannot prove causality. However, given the size of the observed risk reduction associated with frequent chocolate consumption for atherosclerotic plaques and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, it would be possible to mount a well-designed randomized controlled trial to determine if indeed cocoa or chocolate would be a safe, acceptable method of reducing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in addition to current approaches to the treatment and prevention of atherosclerotic vascular disease.

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