Chocolate manufacturers usually encourage farmers to ferment their cocoa beans by covering them with banana leaves and leaving to rest for seven days. The process is widely believed to be the best way to give cocoa its characteristic flavor. However, inadequate fermentation does occur and can lead to defects and inconsistencies.
Mars claims that ethanol treatment of unfermented beans at factory-level can avoid such problems and render the fermentation step obsolete.
“The invention is based on the discovery that microbial fermentation of cocoa beans and/or their pulp is not required to obtain the desired characteristic of cocoa flavor and taste. This is surprising since fermentation is generally accepted in the art as being an important factor in the flavor development of cocoa beans,” said the firm in its patent application.
The process works by covering the unfermented cocoa beans in a defined concentration of ethanol in a vacuum or under pressure and maintaining a set temperature for between 24 to 96 hours.
“The invention provides high-flavored cocoa beans by means of a simple, faster, more controllable (i.e., less variable) and reproducible process, resulting in a cocoa product having a controllable, well-defined, and repeatable flavor and taste profile,” said Mars.
The company said the method would work with a host of cacao tree species including Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario, Arriba.
Once the beans have been treated with ethanol they are subject to conventional drying, roasting and milling processes to produce cocoa products such as cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cocoa liquor, cocoa mass. These are later used to make chocolate.
The patent does not say whether the process would impact levels of cocoa flavanols or whether it would be cheaper for Mars to buy unfermented beans.
It was filed under The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), an international patent law treaty that allows a uniform patent to be considered by signatory national or regional authorities.
National and regional authorities that are signatories to the PCT will now decide whether or not to grant the patent.