BELTSVILLE, Md.For the first time, chocolate quality can be assessed using a new method to authenticate varietal purity and origin of cacao beans, according to a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Cacao beans are the source of chocolate's main ingredient, cocoa.
Researchers with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) applied recent developments in cacao genomics to identify a small set of DNA markers called SNPs (pronounced "snips") that make up unique fingerprints of different cacao species, which can be used to authenticate cacao and ensure product quality.
The technique works on single cacao beans and can be scaled up to handle large samples quickly. "To our knowledge, this is the first authentication study in cacao using molecular markers," the researchers said.
It's not uncommon for lower-quality cacao beans to become mixed with premium varieties during processing into chocolate bars, truffles, sauces and liqueurs. But researchers argue the stakes for policing the chocolate industry are highthe chocolate industry is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise. In fact, the functional chocolate market alone is expected to reach $353 million by 2015.
Further, the ability to authenticate premium and rare varieties would encourage growers to maintain cacao biodiversity rather than depend on the most abundant and easiest-to-grow trees.