Chocolate Chemistry

Most people love chocolate. A few find its dark allure nearly addictive. But I suppose some unlucky souls can’t bear the silky delights most of us find so irresistible.

Many will recall teenage warnings that chocolate consumption risks blemishing one’s complexion, but this admonition is now counterbalanced by suggestions that chocolate’s antioxidant components may lengthen life. Alas, scientific evidence for both conjectures is inconclusive.

Given chocolate’s delectable history, it should come as no surprise that the intricacies of the chocolate genome are about to be revealed. More correctly, the DNA sequence of the small tree that produces cocoa beans (Theobroma cacao) will be decoded by a research team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the candy company Mars, Inc.

Why do this? In part from pure scientific curiosity, and also to add to the growing number of organisms (almost 200 and counting) whose DNA sequences are completed.

On the practical side, Mars predicts that the sequencing will lead farmers to produce higher-yield, pest- and disease-resistant cocoa crops, mostly by taking the guesswork out of traditional plant-breeding schemes.

And although it challenges the imagination, perhaps the sequence will also reveal ways to make chocolate taste even yummier.

While waiting, and to simultaneously satisfy both chocolate and scientific cravings, you could check out the recently published The Science of Chocolate by Stephen P. Beckett. Read a review in Chemical and Engineering News (June 30, 2008, pp. 38–39), or if you’re really an aficionado, meet the author at upcoming Royal Society of Chemistry or American Chemical Society meetings.

Posted In: Technology

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