Chocolate: The secrets of its aroma

The end-of-year celebrations are coming, it’s a good time for chocolate consumption. The unique aroma of chocolate actually comes from the combination of around twenty odorous molecules produced during its manufacture. Chocolate is a pure product created by man for his greatest pleasure.

In their natural state, cocoa beans have a very bitter taste, which has absolutely nothing to do with the chocolate that we can buy in our food markets. This difference is due to the many stages of transformation undergone by the beans following their harvest: fermentation, drying, roasting at high temperature and finally an alkaline treatment called “Dutch processing”.

This sequence of processes causes major changes in the chemical composition of the beans and the appearance of several odorous molecules, which are responsible for the unique aroma of chocolate. We often point to the harmful impact associated with the excessive industrialization of food, in particular with regard to the production of poor quality food by the junk food industry; chocolate (as well as coffee), however, represents an exception to this rule, because the industrial processing of the starting beans is absolutely essential to the development of its unique taste.

The aroma of chocolate, a combination of sometimes disgusting smells

Of the approximately 600 chemical compounds present in chocolate, approximately 35 of them are volatile, i.e. they are in a gaseous state at room temperature and can thus mix with air to stimulate the odor receptors present in our nose.

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In an effort to establish the molecular “signature” responsible for the aroma of chocolate, a team of German chemists isolated each of these volatile compounds and examined their contribution to its smell. Curiously, when these compounds are sniffed individually, the smell given off by each of them has absolutely nothing to do with chocolate: some smell of crisps, others of peaches, cucumber or even honey.

Worse still, some compounds have an odor reminiscent of boiled cabbage, beef fat or even human sweat! On the other hand, the results of blind tests show that it is possible to artificially recreate the smell of chocolate by combining 25 of these volatile compounds. What we recognize (and appreciate) as chocolate is therefore a complex phenomenon, a combination of several smells that could not be more different, sometimes even disgusting, but which, collectively, signal to our brain the presence of a delicacy.

To best taste chocolate: let it melt in your mouth

This is the same phenomenon underlying all the culinary traditions of the world: the brain is unable to discriminate between individual smells when complex aromas, containing several dozen different molecules, stimulate the receptors present in the nose. The diversity of signals transmitted by these receptors is instead integrated by the brain to form a new smell, completely different from that associated with each of the components of the mixture. It is for this reason that cooking is often considered an art: by creating new dishes based on mixtures of vegetables, meats and spices, this culinary art manages to create aromas previously unknown and which do not exist. in nature.

To appreciate your chocolate at the end of the year, let it melt slowly on your tongue to soak up its taste and texture while allowing the release of volatile molecules, which will stimulate your nasal receptors and thus allow you to maximize the enjoyment of the experience. Chocolate is not a simple delicacy; it is in fact a pure product of human ingenuity.

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Schieberle PH. Colorful chemistry of cocoa and chocolate: Flavor creation by processing and eating.

* Presse Santé strives to transmit medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace medical advice. []

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