Real Fake Chocolate
Pleather, astro-turf, inflatable sex dolls, bio-luminescence plants, marinol, vanillin, & printable 3-D guns. When will synthetic chocolate join the party? Maybe sooner than later.
Marc Philouze, President of Diana Plant Sciences, rarely says “plant stem cells”, sensibly avoiding any controversy; instead he uses the more accurate “plant cell cultures”.
Philouze works on maximizing cocoa’s properties, specifically its flavonoids — especially the flavan-3-ols like epicatechin & procyanidins — for their purported health benefits (antioxidants, cardio, mood). This method selects cocoa cells lines that produce more flavanols than others, taken from 4 mother trees, & places them in a media or chemical soup to overexpress flavonoids by scaling up the quantity of these compounds in a bio-reactor. That is, cultures grown in a controlled, closed environment such as a petri dish, with nutrients utilizing naturally-occuring vitamins, reducing sugars, yeasts &/or bacteria.
Next it harvests cells from these bio-reactors & freeze dries them, maintained within a whole food matrix. In the case of cocoa that means all 800 or so of its chemical compounds remain present while a few desirable ones, like flavonoids, are amplified… not at the expense of the others but in relation to them.
According to Philouze the process increases overall polyphenol (the larger class flavonoids belong to) concentration to >20%. This effectively straddles the median strip between natural food & nutriceutical phood.
Such concentrations raise questions about both their bio-availability (the body can assimilate only so much) as well as flavor (polyphenols along with the amino acid proline found in chocolate are largely responsible for activating bitter receptors on the tongue). Data on the former is forthcoming while Philouze assures that the taste will be less bitter than traditional raw cocoa. Tune in next month for our assessment.
Combined with nanotechnology flavorings that represent such an infinitesimal amount that they need not be itemized on the list of ingredients yet can dominate the total flavor profile + the work of Prof. Peter Schieberle, chairman at the Institute for Food Chemistry in Munich, whose team identified the 40 or so compounds in a cacáo seed responsible for core chocolate aromas (the subject of the C-spot® article “Designer or Disaster Chocolate?“), these developments signal that the 4th & arguably final phase of Western chocolate history is upon us: the era of science.
It all inches closer to a synthetic chocolate. Beyond deep space, this is deep chocolate. The biggest challenge in this quest could be mouth feel.
Not only do chocolate lovers swoon on contact with cocoa butter, which stakes out a melting point sexily close to body temperature, fat has a direct effect on processing flavor by activating the cortical response area of the brain that controls taste, aroma & reward, which influences how flavors are perceived. No wonder Euro barsmiths add extra cocoa butter to their bars.
Let’s face it: where the rubber hits the road & not the sky, all the talk of Fair-Trade, organic, Rainforest Alliance, sustainability, child labor, etc., will melt away as soon as an artificial chocolate can be hacked. Big Candy will gladly pull up the stakes from the “20/20 Zone” where cacáo grows. And who’d blame them with political instability, climate change concerns & aging under-skilled farmhands?
But would ersatz chocolate be better or worse than the original?
It depends. Each might have their advantages & fans similar to the difference between outdoor vs. hydroponic / Mother-Earth organic vs. greenhouse engineered seen with other botanicals. Anyone who visits coffee shops in Amsterdam can experience this distinction.
Purists need not fret; there will always be a place for classic chocolate.
Real fake chocolate is simply a matter of time. But will it arrive before the Singularity Moment or shall the Robo sapiens get it all?