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No oxygen required: Mars seeks patent for cocoa fermentation using airtight bags

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Cocoa fermentation in airtight bags ups chocolate flavor, says Mars patent. Photo: iStock - ValentynVolkov
Cocoa fermentation in airtight bags ups chocolate flavor, says Mars patent. Photo: iStock - ValentynVolkov

Related tags Chocolate

Cocoa off-flavors can be avoided by fermenting beans in sealed vacuumed bags inside an incubator with yeast starter cultures, claims Mars in a patent application

A trained test panel found sensory characteristics of cocoa liquor produced via this method superior to cocoa liquor from traditional or aerobic wooden box fermentation, said Mars.

Old habits die hard?

Cocoa is typically fermented at plantations by leaving piles of wet beans to rest for seven days covered by banana leaves.

Some companies control cocoa fermentation using wooden boxes and starter cultures, such as Danish confectioner Toms.

Under Mars’ invention, it places wet beans in sealed, air evacuated bags inside commercial temperature controlled incubators for six days at a minimum of 37° C.

The Snickers maker optionally adds a starter culture with yeasts, enzymes such as pectinase or preservatives such as cryoprotective compounds.

Mars says these anaerobic conditions [without oxygen] improve storage stability and lead to better flavor release and prolonged flavor retention in finished chocolate products, compared to chocolate from traditional fermentation.

Oxygen unnecessary, says Mars

“The invention is based on the discovery that aerobic fermentation [with oxygen] of cocoa beans and/or their pulp is not required to obtain the desired characteristic of cocoa flavor and taste,”​ said Mars in its application.

“This is surprising since it is generally accepted that both anaerobic and aerobic fermentation is important in the flavor development of cocoa beans,”​ it said.

The US-based chocolate giant said any variety of cocoa bean was suitable, but it conducted tests on beans from Brazil’s Bahia region.

Usual drying, roasting and milling techniques can be used after the airtight container fermentation, said Mars.

The method can also be used for cupuacu beans or coffee beans, it added.

The patent was initially filed in 2014, but only became publicly available this month.

Fermentation research

In recent years, the cocoa and chocolate industry has stepped up its search for ways to boost flavor finished chocolate via controlled fermentation as companies become closer to farmers.

For example, cocoa ingredients supplier Barry Callebaut recently collaborated​ with the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) and KU Leuven (University of Leuven) to develop a cocoa fermentation method similar to that used in the beer industry.

However, Mars filed a separate patent in 2014 for a method to process cocoa beans without any fermentation​ that it claimed preserved the final chocolate taste and allowed a more consistent flavor.

(US20150374007) Anaerobic Fermentation of Seeds of Fruit
Applicant: Mars Incorporated
Application Number: 14767189
Publication Number: 20150374007
Publication Date: 31.12.2015

Related topics R&D Chocolate Cocoa Mars Premium

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