The microbes helping to get a fair trade for cocoa farmers across the world

06 July 2022

On World Chocolate Day 2022 (Thursday 7 July), a team of researchers and chocolatiers from Nottingham are exhibiting at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition (6 – 10 July), sharing their research into the fermentation processes of cocoa beans to find out how microbes influence chocolate flavour.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham’s Future Food Beacon have been examining the microbes present in fermentations, to better understand how flavours develop. They are working with an award-winning Nottingham based artisan chocolatier and a group of Colombian female cocoa growers on a project that aims to get the best possible flavour and price from the cocoa they produce. 

Cocoa beans beginning their journey to become your favourite bar of chocolate, start off in wooden boxes at the cocoa farm where they undergo a process of fermentation by different yeast and bacteria which, when roasted, ground and melted gives the resulting bar of chocolate a distinctive taste. These microbes can give chocolate a range of naturally occurring flavours from red berries to caramel and vanilla to florals.

By understanding the impact of different microbes on the final flavour, cocoa farmers can work with the scientists to promote the growth of microorganisms which create attractive flavours while stopping the growth of those found to produce undesirable tastes in the resulting bar of chocolate.

Dr David Gopaulchan, International Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham said: “It’s really exciting to be taking this research to the Summer Science Exhibition and showing visitors the science behind the chocolate they enjoy. We hope by sharing the work we’ve been doing in a fun and interactive way they will understand how different flavours develop and what a complex process it is to get chocolate from the tree to a finished product - and of course there will be plenty of chocolate to try too!”

Luisa Vicinanzi-Bedi, Managing Director of Luisa’s Vegan Chocolates said, “It’s been a fantastic experience to be involved in this research project. As an independent business I understand some of the challenges the cocoa farmers face and the need to ensure every product is of the highest quality and will meet the needs and tastes of the customer. I am also committed to ensuring the farmers get a good return on their product which is why this research project has been so important. I’m really looking forward to seeing people’s reactions to the chocolate and finding out what they enjoy (or don’t!).”

Visitors to the Summer Science Exhibition will learn about the science of producing chocolate and will sample chocolates with different naturally occurring flavours produced right on the exhibition floor.

Summer Science Exhibition

The Royal Society has held a Summer Science Exhibition to showcase the best of UK science since its early days, when Fellows of the Society were invited to the President's home to view instruments and specimens from the latest research.