“The discovery makes it possible to create a whole range of boutique chocolates to match everyone’s favourite flavour — similar to wines, tea, and coffee,” said Jan Steensels, post-doctoral researcher at the University of Leuven and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, Belgium.
Initially, the researchers sought robust yeast strains that could outcompete the many invading yeast strains that flood the cocoa beans during fermentation.
“After harvesting, the cocoa beans are collected in large plastic boxes, or even piled in large heaps on the soil, right in the farms where they are grown,” explained Esther Meersman, post-doctoral researcher with Steensels at the two institutions.
However, some striking differences were noted in aroma among the chocolates made from fermentations using different robust yeasts.
That proved to be remarkable since only the yeast strains were different.
Interestingly, the fermentations were performed identically, and the same recipe was used each time.
The team set out to breed novel yeast hybrids that would combine robustness with strong flavour production.
The investigators collaborated in this research with the world’s largest chocolate producer, Barry Callebaut, who have combined two critical characteristics of yeast in single hybrid variants.
“This means that for the first time, chocolate makers have a broad portfolio of different yeast strains that are all producing different flavours,” Steensels stated.
“This is similar to the current situation in beer brewing and wine making. A new era of chocolate may be dawning,” the authors noted in a paper published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.