The importance of microbes in cocoa production

Cocoa production is a growing industry which produces well over a million tonnes of chocolate products annually. Cocoa is processed from the fruits of the Theobroma Cacao plant in countries with a tropical climate with the Ivory Coast being the biggest producer. The process of production involves a number of steps and with a variety of microorganisms contributing to the end product such as bacteria and yeasts. Without their involvement it is very difficult to produce the traditional flavours and aromas associated with chocolate, hence their importance.

The stage of cocoa production where microbes are most vital is the fermentation process. Microbial succession has been observed here in a number of studies. It varies slightly between geographical locations and cocoa strains however on the whole succession is generally the same. Yeasts such as Saccharomyces Cerevisiae are the first species to colonise the fruits and their role is to aid breaking down the compounds in the mucilaginous pulp surrounding the cocoa bean to expose the bean for subsequent processes. Lactic acid bacteria populations out compete yeasts and produce lactic acid from sugars in the pulp. Acetic acid bacteria are the third and most important colonisers of the cocoa bean in fermentation. Their role includes oxidising alcohols in exothermic reactions to produce acetic acid. Acetic acid is the main component that can enter the cocoa bean destroying the embryo releasing the vital precursors necessary for chocolate flavour production.

The microbes all function together to optimise production of the key flavour precursors and aromas. Greater knowledge of microbial importance in cocoa production is essential for this growing industry and as demands are increasing and it could avoid potential costly mishaps in cocoa production such as off flavours and over acidified products.

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