We don’t need to tell you that chocolate — dark, milk, white, whatever — is one of those foods that are just dependably delicious. Well, unless you’re more of a vanilla person (i.e. boring, admit it). But what if the time-tested flavors of chocolate could be pushed to the next level and take on a complexity similar to wine?
Scientists have found a way, and it could be the future of chocolate.
Working on behalf of Barry Callebaut, one of the world's largest chocolate producers, a group of scientists at Belgium’s University of Leuven and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology created innovative new hybrid yeast strains that could be used to ferment cocoa beans and give the resulting chocolate a boosted flavor and "nose" -- just like a nice bottle of wine. Basically, chocolate is about to get a major upgrade.
"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.
While this all sounds great, let's just hope the development doesn't lead to $25 chocolate bars and freaking chocolate sommeliers telling you what subtle flavor notes you should be detecting while you're just trying to enjoy some damn chocolate.
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Tony Merevick is Cities News Editor at Thrillist and wants the future of chocolate to be right now. Send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @tonymerevick.