What’s really in luscious chocolate aroma?
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What’s really in that luscious chocolate aroma?

2:52 AM, 30th August 2011
What’s really in that luscious chocolate aroma?
Researchers unlock the secrets behind chocolate's unique aroma and taste. (C) iStock.

 

DENVER, US: The mouth-watering aroma of roasted cocoa beans - key ingredient for chocolate - emerges from substances that individually smell like potato chips, cooked meat, peaches, raw beef fat, cooked cabbage, human sweat, earth, cucumber, honey and an improbable palate of other distinctly un-cocoa-like aromas.

That’s among the discoveries emerging from an effort to identify the essential aroma and taste ingredients in the world’s favourite treat, described recently at the 242nd  National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The research, which chronicles flavour substances from processing of cocoa beans to melting in the mouth, could lead to a new genre of “Designer chocolates” with never-before-experienced tastes and aromas, according to Peter Schieberle, PhD.

“To develop better chocolate, you need to know the chemistry behind the aroma and taste substances in cocoa and other ingredients,” said Schieberle. A pioneer in revealing those secrets, Schieberle received the 2011 ACS Award for the Advancement of Application of Agricultural and Food Chemistry at the meeting.

Chocolate is made from cacao (or cocoa) beans. Much of the chocolate used in baking, ice cream and hot cocoa undergoes “Dutch processing,” which gives it a milder taste. Worldwide, about 3 million tonne of cocoa are produced each year.

Cocoa production developed over the years by trial and error, not by scientific analysis, so the substances that give chocolate its subtle flavours were largely unknown, said Schieberle, a Professor, Institute for Food Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich, Germany.

The distinctive chocolate flavour evolves throughout its production. Odour receptors in the nose play an important role in the perception of aroma. Schieberle and colleagues identified various substances present in cocoa for aromas that bind to human odour receptors in the nose. They mimicked the overall chocolate flavour in so-called “Recombinates” containing those ingredients and taste testers couldn’t tell the difference when they sampled some of those concoctions. Individually, those substances had aromas of potato chips, peaches, cooked meat and other un-chocolatey foods.

“To make a good cocoa aroma, you need only 25 of the nearly 600 volatile compounds present in the beans,” said Schieberle. “We call this type of large-scale sensory study - Sensomics.” The term sensomics involves compiling a profile of the key chemical players responsible for giving specific foods their distinctive taste and aroma.

Some of Schieberle’s research also uncovered a way to improve the taste of chocolate. The group found that by adding a little bit of sugar to the cocoa before Dutch processing, makes it milder and more velvety due to the formation of previously unknown taste components.

Schieberle’s data could help manufacturers control and improve the flavour of cocoa products by assessing these key components in their mixtures.

(C) 2011 American Chemical Society

 

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