The Belgian group said investment in research and years of ‘trial and error’ has paid off with a fermentation method developed in collaboration with cocoa bean growers that produces a new chocolate range – Terra Cacao – that has “virtually zero defects or off flavours.”
The new chocolate range, continued Barry Callebaut, covers milk and dark chocolate references from 33.5 per cent to 70.5 per cent cocoa mass.
The innovative technique, explained the supplier, is applied after the harvest and during the initial critical fermentation stage with ongoing R&D work generating insights into how to develop the right ferment cultures to boost flavour precursors in the beans.
The company said the method also ensures more sustainable production, as the improved bean quality enables local farmers to “earn better incomes and thus a better livelihood for themselves and their communities.”
Both industry and research institutes are involved in ongoing work aimed at ensuring better quality cocoa crops. This publication recently reported on a University of Reading project that aims to ensure the sustainability of future cocoa production through suggesting ways cocoa breeders can produce varieties more adapted to climate change.
Paul Hadley, professor of horticultural crop physiology at that university, said that the trigger for the research was not any one particular harvest of late but instead a growing awareness over the last 20 years of an obvious change in the climate in West Africa, with increasingly drier conditions there.
He said that the five year project, which is funded by Cocoa Research UK, intends to confront directly the problems impacting the cocoa crop as well as quantifying the impact of climate change on West Africa.
Interim results of the research are expected in three years time and will inform future work of study centres such as the Ghana Institute of Cocoa Research, said Hadley.
He added that the knock on effect of the overall project will be an improvement of the livelihood of farmers in West Africa through more consistent output and a more secure future supply of cocoa for end user manufacturers.
Last year’s breakthrough in cocoa genetics by a collaboration involving Mars, USDA and IBM should also accelerate research into the production of trees that can better resist drought, disease and pests.
The partnership, which includes scientists based at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the US Department of Agriculture and Science as well as researchers working at IBM’s Thomas J Watson Research Center, achieved preliminary sequencing of the cocoa genome.
The team said it will benefit not only the chocolate industry, but cocoa growers in West Africa, a region where 70 per cent of the world's cocoa is produced, and in other tropical zones.
Fungal diseases can destroy seed-bearing pods and wipe out up to 80 per cent of the cocoa crop, and cause an estimated $700m in losses each year.
The researchers including ARS based molecular biologist David Kuhn and geneticist Raymond Schnell said that they released the findings of sequencing into the public domain in order to assist scientists to begin applying the findings immediately to crop cultivation efforts.