"This makes it possible to create a whole range of boutique chocolates to match everyone’s favorite flavor, similar to wines, tea, and coffee,” said Jan Steensels, a postdoctoral researcher at the university, in a press release. "This means that for the first time, chocolate makers have a broad portfolio of different yeast strains that are all producing different flavors. This is similar to the current situation in beer brewing and wine making."
Typically, when cocoa beans are harvested, they're piled in large plastic boxes and surrounded by a "gooey pulp," which is fermented by bacteria and wild yeasts from the surrounding environment. This, according to the researchers, gives chocolate producers little control over the flavor of the resulting chocolate product. But the new study, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, finds that adding powerful yeast strains to the cocoa beans can actually overwhelm and control the previously uncontrollable variations in flavor. And because different yeast strains resulted in different flavors, the scientists were then able to breed "novel yeast hybrids" that can add all-new, sophisticated flavor notes to chocolate, according to a press release.