Improved chocolate quality with controlled cocoa fermentation, says Barry Callebaut

Barry Callebaut: Training farmers to add starter cultures during fermentation promotes yeasts that boost the quality of cacao beans. Photo Credit: Susitainable Cocoa Initiative

The taste of chocolate can be vastly improved by adding starter cultures during cacao bean fermentation, according to Barry Callebaut.

Speaking to ConfectioneryNews at ISM in Cologne, Germany, last week, Nicholas Camu, group manager of Barry Callebaut’s sustainable sourcing program Cocoa Horizons said: “We believe that fermentation is the most important step in introducing taste in your cocoa beans.”

Barry Callebaut is running a project in the Ivory Coast to supply cocoa farmers with starter cultures that promote the growth of certain yeasts during cacao bean fermentation. The company believes beans developed through the process, which it is using in its premium quality Terra Cacao chocolate, lead to an improved chocolate flavor.

Keeping fermentation at farm level

Fermentation usually takes place at plantations, where cacao beans are heaped into a pile, covered by banana leaves and left to rest for seven days.

The fermentation usually happens at farm level, but some companies collect the beans to ferment themselves.

“Quality-wise it’s the best solution, but it doesn’t give a farmer an incentive to stay in cocoa,” said Barry Callebaut’s marketing director for Food Manufacturers Western Europe Sofie De Lathouwer. “At Barry Callebaut, we keep it at the farm level because we believe it is important for farmers’ income because if you ferment your beans you get more money out of it.”

Starter cultures

Camu explained how the controlled fermentation process worked. “We are using yeasts that are known in the food industry, just like they do in beer, wine and whisky fermentation. It’s the normal Saccharomyces strains that we are using to produce the fruity taste.”

 “We are supplying this to our farmers in origin and are training them. We give them the starter culture for free and then they deliver the beans to us and we pay them a premium for the work and the extra quality they produce.”

It was only recently confirmed by researchers at the University of New South Wales that yeasts produced during cacao bean fermentation were essential to the final quality of chocolate. The researchers in that study hinted at the future use of starter cultures, but Barry Callebaut has been using starter cultures for five years.

Benefits to quality and the farmer

It began with 150 farmers – now more than 8,000 farmers in the Ivory Coast take part. Participating farmers receive a €60 ($81) per metric ton premium for using the cultures.

“I no longer have to convince them, they come to us to ask if they can join,” said Camu.

The Cocoa Horizons head added that some farmers lost up to 20% of their harvest through poor fermentation, but said the starter cultures ensured all of a farmers produce was utilized.

Barry Callebaut’s four-day controlled fermentation is also shorter than conventional fermentation, which typically lasts a week.

“For a farmer it means a lot. If he can shorten his process it means that he has less risk of losing his crop since it can be stolen,” said Camu.

Controlled fermentation yields

Barry Callebaut started by buying 150 MT of cacao beans grown with controlled fermentation. In 2013, that figure rose to 8,000 MT and the company is aiming to grow by another 2,000 MT this year in the Ivory Coast. But controlled fermentation still accounts for only a minuscule amount of the company's 920,000 MT annual cocoa volumes.

“For the moment we use one specific starter culture for all the countries where we are active but we are still developing new ones because depending on what starter culture you add you can end up with very different tastes and different profiles,” said Camu.

The company is still discovering how fermentation impacts the final chocolate product. Camu said that the smallest of changes, such as turning the beans during fermentation on day two or day three gave a very different taste profile even when the same starter culture was used. 

On top of using the starter cultures for beans for its Terra Cacao range, Barry Callebaut has also begun to use the cultures to make tailor made recipes for some customers.

Related News

Strong interest from Asia for beer-filled chocolates, says Carré Chocolates

ChocOBeer: When beer and chocolate collide

Nestlé studies explores best starter cultures for flavor during cocoa fermentation. Photo credit: Sustainable Cocoa Initiative

Nestlé-backed study unlocks cocoa fermentation acetate mystery

Scenes of the past? Mars claims it has eradicated need for cocoa bean fermentation. Photo credit: Susitainable Cocoa Initiative

Has Mars found a way around cocoa bean fermentation?

Barry Callebaut develops controlled cocoa fermentation with beer yeast

Unlocking aroma: Barry Callebaut borrows Belgian beer techniques to control cocoa fermentation

Researchers discover ideal yeast starter cultures to deliver consistent, high quality chocolate

Cocoa fermentation with beer yeasts up chocolate quality, say researchers

Borrow learnings from specialty coffee to develop cocoa quiality standards, says Lutheran World Relief. Photo: iStock - gojak

Wake up and smell the coffee: Cocoa and chocolate industry can learn from coffee grading system

Cocoa fermentation in airtight bags ups chocolate flavor, says Mars patent. Photo: iStock - ValentynVolkov

No oxygen required: Mars seeks patent for cocoa fermentation using airtight bags

Comments (1)

Felix - 27 Feb 2014 | 07:04

starter culture

I am final year student of Kwadaso Agricultural college Kumasi and my dissertation is on the effect of starter cultures for cocoa fermentation and i would be very much pleased if you could direct me as to how to obtain the starter culture you give to your farmers and how to use it. thank you

27-Feb-2014 at 07:04 GMT

Submit a comment

Your comment has been saved

Post a comment

Please note that any information that you supply is protected by our Privacy and Cookie Policy. Access to all documents and request for further information are available to all users at no costs, In order to provide you with this free service, William Reed Business Media SAS does share your information with companies that have content on this site. When you access a document or request further information from this site, your information maybe shared with the owners of that document or information.