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For the Love of the Bean

Craft chocolate--made with fine-flavor cacao beans--is gaining a fast following.

Fine-Tuning Fine Chocolate

"The craft chocolate market in the United States is estimated to be worth $100 million with new chocolate makers entering the industry almost every day," said Allison Brown, food science doctoral candidate in the college's International Agriculture and Development (INTAD) dual-title degree program.

Through a partnership with the Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola, an agricultural research facility in La Lima, Cortés, Honduras--a country recognized for producing fine-flavor cacao beans--Penn State food scientists Brown, Helene Hopfer, and Gregory Ziegler are studying how plant cultivars, climate, soil, and processing methods influence flavor and aroma characteristics of cacao beans, and how consumers might respond to those characteristics.

Last year, the team conducted a comprehensive chemical analysis and sensory studies.

Healthier, Tastier Chocolate

Manipulating the temperature and the length of time under which cocoa beans are roasted can simultaneously preserve and even boost the potency of some bioactive and antioxidant compounds while protecting desired sensory aspects of chocolate, according to Penn State researchers.

That finding flies in the face of previous studies that indicate that roasting always results in a reduction in the polyphenol content in the beans. Cocoa polyphenols are believed to have a positive influence on human health, especially with regard to cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, metabolic disorders, and cancer prevention.

The research, led by Joshua Lambert, associate professor of food science, and published in Food Chemistry, suggests that cocoa roasting can be optimized to increase the content of some polyphenols and health benefits.

-- Amy Duke and Jeff Mulhollem