This innovative project could lead to significant improvements in the chocolate flavours industry.
The study aims to develop technological capabilities that could lead to new products and innovations, ranging from more stable hot chocolate drinks to cocoa sauces.
NIZO said that solubility and the unpredictable rheology of cocoa in water has been one of the major bottlenecks in product development. In fact, the full physico-chemical behaviour of cocoa powders in water has never been well studied.
As a result, cocoa powder in water still sediments to the bottom. NIZO wanted to find out whether there was a way of preventing this.
In order to achieve this, the research institute has established a three-year project with the Swiss chocolate giant. NIZO said that this partnership will enable product characteristics to be combined with processing parameters in order to uncover the key components and parameters that cause the current product development bottlenecks.
"Cocoa has been well known since the Aztecs but the science behind the physical behaviour of cocoa powder is only just emerging," said project leader Igor Bodnar of NIZO food research.
"The interplay between processing, colloid physics, chemistry and application is the perfect combination to translate the current empirical process into a food engineers approach."
NIZO also said that the research is targeted at meeting the needs of different food industry segments that deal with cocoa - dairy, sugar and chocolate confectionery, biscuit and bakery, ice cream and desserts.
The partnership project is being largely financed through a Dutch subsidy agreement, and is supported by many of the main players in the cocoa industry. Many of these firms will participate in an external advisory committee, NIZO said that as a result, the project should benefit the whole cocoa and chocolate industry.
With annual sales of more than CHF 4 billion for fiscal year 2004/05, Zurich-based Barry Callebaut is a leading manufacturer of cocoa, chocolate and confectionery products. It operates more than 30 production facilities in 24 countries and employs approximately 8,000 people.
"As an innovative cocoa and chocolate producer we are constantly working to find new ways to make our products even more tasty and convenient," said Herwig Bernaert of Barry Callebaut.
"A structured co-operation with leading scientific institutes like NIZO food research helps Barry Callebaut to fulfil the market needs and to give innovative solutions to our customers."