For over 3000 years, Theobroma cacao has been an integral cultural crop. First used in Mesoamerica as a ritualistic fermented brew, it eventually gave rise to the global chocolate industry of modern times. Today, Theobroma is cultivated throughout the humid tropics and is an important agricultural crop in over 30 countries including many parts of the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania; but the origin of Theobroma is distinctly Neotropical. The genus comprises only a handful of small understory species in the Mallow family (Malvaceae) that produce large fruit (pods) containing numerous seeds, or beans. It is these beans that are the basis for chocolate.
Amazingly over 600 volatile flavor compounds have been found in chocolate, making it one of the most complex food products known. However, few of these compounds are present in raw beans and only emerge after a nuanced and complicated process. At the root of that process is microbial fermentation, the key step in the development of flavor precursors responsible for the rich flavor of chocolate. In this presentation we will discuss fermentation and the role of this metabolic process in going from bean to bar.
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