Chocolate shortages are impending, experts say. Global demand is up thanks to Asia’s growing love for the sweet confectionary, but the supply is going down.
Despite consumer assumptions, it has nothing to do with the Ebola virus. Restricted mobility of the migrant West African workforce who toil in the cacao fields temporarily slowed down production, but now the Ebola epidemic is over. The white tents are gone, giving way to aid workers in the region. The small farms that produce 90 percent of the world’s chocolate can get back to work. There are 45 million jobs in 50 different countries dependent on the cocoa bean. That is where the problem lies. Many different people in different countries need the productivity and money that the fickle little cocoa bean provides. It is prone to certain diseases and grows only in temperate zones in the world.
The Cocoa Research Center in Trinidad did a great job combating some of the problems inherent with growing cacao. With over 2,000 different cacao trees at their disposal, the institution studied the genomes of each species, looked at potential problems and nipped them in the bud, so to speak. Technologies used in the institute wiped out cacao tree diseases from the past.
Genetically modifying the cocoa bean may avert a chocolate shortage, which is nothing new. Diseases such as Frosty Pod and Witch’s Broom have been eradicated since the 19th century. For a crop to be hardy, it must yield copiously while resisting disease. The CCN-1 tree fits the bill, but its acrid taste leaves much to be desired. Big producers such as Hershey and Mars do not mind taking the fruit of that tree, mashing it up and adding sugar and vanilla to cover up its bitter taste. Small artisan companies prefer to be selective in the beans that they choose. They can be discriminating because they do not have to meet the more than $100 billion chocolate demand on their own.
The Costa Rican Martina cocoa bean is a beautiful yellow color, and yields high-quality delicious cacao. This top-quality sweet bean was mixed with the bitter CCN-1 bean, but it did not make the perfect cocoa bean. Although producers thought this mix was the answer to their prayers, it did not have much of a taste and was missing chocolate’s distinctive aromatic smell. This means that producers had even more work to do.
The Ecuoardian Research Center went a step beyond that by seeking out the genome that made chocolate bitter and removing it all together. This was great for people concerned with the taste, smell and long life of the cacao plant. Those concerned with the health components of chocolate might be alarmed. Genetically modified cacao beans, sequenced to have the bitter genome removed, is akin to Dutch-processed cocoa powder.
Dutch chemist Johannes van Houten wanted to use cocoa, but found the natural product difficult to mix with water. His solution was to use alkaline salts. It made the powder more soluble but also flushed away the many antioxidants that make chocolate healthy. The alkaline process also took away cacao’s bitter taste. This chemical change may have been good for big business, but it was bad for people who eat chocolate for its health properties. There will not be much fear of a chocolate shortage if no one wants the product.
By Danielle Branch
Photo by RoseTulips – License
Photo by Marcio Cabral de Moura – License