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Research

There are many elements of what we might understand as chocolate research.  Here’s a sample of topics:

  • Health and chocolate consumption

  • Chocolate science and technology

  • Sustainable packaging

 The internet is alive with articles about the health benefits of cocoa. Some are more believable than others. A recent article from Cocoa Runners looked at ‘Sugar and chocolate–a continuing debate’.

 Most people will be aware that breakfast cereals contain more sugar than dark craft chocolate bars. What not everyone realises is that a single serving size of low fat vanilla yogurt can have over five teaspoons of sugar (the sugar is used to replace the fat and so stabilise, preserve and give mouthfeel). By contrast an average craft dark chocolate bar (65g at 70%) has less than four teaspoons of sugar.

 A 330ml can of Coca Cola contains eight teaspoons of sugar (ie 35g of sugar). A bottle of red wine (750CL) contains approximately six teaspoons. A 65g craft chocolate bar of 70% dark craft chocolate typically contains three-four teaspoons of sugar. Most people drink the full can of coke in one sitting. Most people share the bottle of red wine. And most craft chocolate consumers share and savour the bar of chocolate over a few evenings. So the more useful question is how many teaspoons per serving?

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Chocolate science
There are many serious scientific publications about chocolate consistent with chocolate being a significant market with $140B revenues in 2018.

The Science of Chocolate by Stephen T Beckett leads the reader to an understanding of the complete chocolate making process and includes the ways in which basic science plays a vital role in its manufacture, testing and consumption. Originally based on a talk to encourage school children to study science, the book’s now widely used within industry and academia.

Chocolate Science and Technology considers recent advances in the science and technology of chocolate manufacture and the international cocoa industry. The publication provides detailed review on a wide range of topics including cocoa production, cocoa and chocolate manufacturing operations, sensory perception of chocolate quality, flavour release and perception, sugar replacement and alternative sweetening solutions in chocolate production and industrial manufacture of sugar free chocolates as well as the nutrition and health benefits of cocoa and chocolate consumption.

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Sustainable packaging

There are some recent announcements in this hot topic area.

Cadbury is trialing new paper packaging for its Cadbury Energy blocks. The paper is made from 100 per cent sustainably sourced paper and is 100 per cent recyclable.

The Thinkstep blog highlights sustainable packaging trends including design for recycling and reuse, replacing plastics with bioplastics and paper, reducing/removing packaging, shifting to mono materials, increasing recycled content. Thinkstep’s key messages include to not use more material and energy to produce the recyclable product than the current product uses, designing for recycling does not mean it will be recycled, recycling infrastructure lags demand and recyclers need to be regulated/incentivised to improve quality, and customer education on responsible packaging use and disposal is important. How many times do you need to use a reusable shopping bag to have a lesser impact than a single use alternative? Five, 20, 50 or 100 times?   

Mars Incorporated considers key themes in packaging sustainability. ‘Reuse, recycle, reeducate’ is the catch phrase for the Mars approach to sustainable packaging.

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Since Mars is working hard today to create the world we want to see tomorrow, we’re looking at every part of our business. This includes how our products are made and how they are packaged. Packaging plays many important roles: protecting ingredients traveling from farms to factories to customers and consumers, preserving freshness, conveying nutrition and health information, and differentiating our brands. It also poses real challenges. Packaging is not always recyclable, and even when it is, it’s not always recycled. This means it can end up in landfills, as litter or even find its way to oceans. At Mars, we take our responsibility for sustainable packaging seriously, so we’re working toward 100 percent recyclable packaging by 2025. To reach our goal, we’ll need not only recyclable materials, but educated consumers and efficient infrastructure and policies to make it happen. Our approach to sustainable packaging has three interrelated areas of Materials / Design, Recycling Infrastructure and Consumer Behavior.

Australian cocoa

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The Conus Report Overview of Cocoa Industry September 2018, commissioned by Charley’s Chocolate, found that it was realistic to plant cocoa in far north Queensland to support a revenue target of $200 million for bean to bar chocolate. This would require about 1,000 hectares of cocoa plantings. Currently 30 plus hectares are planted.

Cost of cocoa production in Australia is appreciably more than in low cost countries in West Africa where 70 per cent of cocoa is grown. Research is therefore integral to achieve high yield, quality cocoa production. 

Australia has a very new cocoa industry; the first planting occurred in 1998 when Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (now AgriFutures) funded a project to see if cocoa could be grown in Australia. Fortunately, the project was successful.

Further research is now done at the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Centre for Wet Tropics Agriculture at South Johnstone in far north Queensland. The Centre concentrates on production trials to maximise yield (clonal selections and trellising) and then clonal selection to develop planting material for far north Queensland. The work done at South Johnstone for Australia and the Pacific Islands covers the following themes. 

  • Research into breeding better cocoa trees - This topic is about bean yield and flavour and about balancing yield against flavour and disease resistance. Think of the problems with thin skinned very red tomatoes; they tasted wonderful but could not be transported easily. 
  • Managing cocoa plant diseases better - This research includes areas such as epidemiology, control and breeding resistance. This is a major topic for most cocoa producing regions where low management and low inputs (fertiliser and pesticides) exacerbate cocoa’s susceptibility to diseases. 
  • Research into mixed planting of cocoa and horticulture/forestry species
  • Better understanding of fermentation and drying - This is particularly important in Hawaii which has less favourable conditions than far north Queensland as Hawaii’s further from the equator.
  • Bean quality and safety research

Yan Diczbalis, Principal Horticulturist at Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Centre for Wet Tropics Agriculture identifies the following priority R&D activities.

  • Higher production by testing new selections under commercial conditions; an ongoing activity 
  • Production systems, eg trellis and/or free-standing trees, pruning management
  • Industry extension and training, involving revamping cocoa production guide, grafting training, production workshops and industry meetings
  • Cocoa quality, eg fermentation and drying systems 

 Sources

Cadbury NZ
Cocoa Runners
Mars Incorporated
Flora Southey, ‘Mars patents heat resistant chocolate that maintains taste and shape in hot climates’, Food Navigator, 30 April 2020
Laura Woods, ‘Research and Markets’, PR Newswire, US, June 2019
Stephen T Beckett, ‘The Science of Chocolate’, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK, 15 November 2018
Peter Faulkner, ‘Overview of Cocoa Industry’, Conus, Australia, September 2018
Joseph Nordqvist, ‘Health benefits and risks of chocolate’, Medical News Today, UK, 17 July 2018
Kris Gunnars, ‘7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate’, Healthline Media, UK, 25 June 2018
Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa, ‘Chocolate Science and Technology’, Wiley, US, 8 April 2016
Siegfried Bolenz, 'Chocolate mass–an overview on current and alternative processing technologies’, New Food Magazine, UK, 27 October 2014
Sophie Kieselbach, The Top 9 Sustainable Packaging Trends in 2019Thinkstep, US