Chocolate manufacturers will risk a poorer quality final product unless they trace what happens to cocoa beans before they reach their factories, say researchers.
A review of earlier literature published in the Food Control journal found that manufacturers could improve the production process, optimise flavour and preserve the health benefits of chocolate through cocoa traceability.
Review authors Rolando Saltini et al. said: “Farming practices applied by cocoa farmers at the beginning of the chocolate supply chain strongly influence several quality parameters of the finished chocolate. “
“However, information regarding these practices does not normally reach the chocolate manufacturer,” they said.
The review identified several different variables in the supply chain that can impact final chocolate quality, such as the country of origin, fermentation methods, drying techniques and transportation.
Health elements affected
The review noted earlier studies that found that polyphenol compounds in chocolate had antioxidant proprieties and could aid heart health.
It warned that heat treatment and alkalinisation occurring further up the supply chain could destroy the polyphenols, thereby reducing potential health benefits.
Current traceability misses cocoa farming stages
The review said that the implementation of traceability systems was gaining traction as a result of growing concerns over food quality and safety.
The EU has even legislated on traceability for certain foods , however as most cocoa beans are produced outside the EU in West Africa, the regulations do not apply to actors at the start of the cocoa supply chain.
Stages affecting quality
Matters affecting chocolate quality identified by the researchers can be summarised as such:
- Type/subspecies of the cocoa tree
- Crop season and country of origin
- Pod storage
- Fermentation: method, microflora, duration, aeration, use of starter cultures
- Drying: duration, temperature, method
Benefits of tracing these stages
The review said that by implementing traceability systems for these stages of the cocoa supply chain, chocolate makers could improve the production process by skipping unnecessary processes, increasing yields and reducing spoilage during storage.
Tracing these stages can also allow chocolate flavour profiles to be optimised, it said – for example by introducing starter cultures to the fermentation process or reducing alkalinisation.
Food Control, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 167-187, doi: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2012.05.054.
‘Optimizing chocolate production through traceability: A review of the influence of farming practices on cocoa bean quality’
Authors: Saltini, R., Akkerman, R., Frosch, S.