Sensory analysis, a “trump card” for Venezuelan cacao

In FEATURED, RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT, NEWS, ACTORS by Juan Pablo Crespo

Yuly Carreño
Photos: Jone Troconis
Trasnlation: María Shokálo

“Our cocoas after being fermented, dried and still unroasted already smell of chocolate”.

For years we have been hearing a phrase that already seems to be part of the Venezuelan DNA: “Our cocoa is the best in the world”. But deep down how true is it? What is this statement based on? Do we really have the best cocoa or is it a saying that is true only in words?

Part of the answer to these questions lays in one of the most important aspects of the substances and food studies: sensory analysis, a “scientific discipline that uses the senses of the human being to evoke, measure, analyze and interpret reactions to the food and substance characteristics”, including taste, smell, texture or color.

Ignacio Buscema, a Venezuelan chemist, graduated from the University of Zulia, LUZ, and currently a researcher at the Foundation for Advanced Studies (Idea), defines it from his experience as “the fingerprint of flavor and aroma”, allowing to define properties and particular attributes of each bean.

The genetic variability of our cocoa is so broad that it has become an area of study worth exploring. The privilege of having a geography characterized by diversity of climates, soils, altitudes, vegetation and temperatures gives Venezuelan cacao unique properties that influence taste, and it is precisely there we must focus out attention.

Let´s begin from Miranda state…

In 2012, as part of his doctorate, Buscema carried out an investigation which evaluated the sensory profile of elite clones (plants with high and sustained production) harvested in Acevedo municipality of Miranda state, Venezuela, known since colonial times by its cocoa tradition.

The beans were subjected to a fermentation, drying and toasting process and analyzed by a group of experts in order to evaluate the volatile odor compounds of cacao. The findings of this study, carried out jointly by the representatives of Simón Bolívar University (USB) and the National Institute of Agricultural Research, Inia, Miranda, showed promising results that are worth repeating in other areas.

For Buscema, a specialist in Analytical Chemistry, this type of studies allow to establish and determine the varietals depending on their genetics, getting more information on how smell and taste our cacaos.

In general, the typr cacao we have in Venezuela is trinitario (a mixture between criollo and forastero), and in turn each of these materials have qualities of the area where they are cultivated. “Being fermented, dried and still unroasted our cocoas already smell of chocolate”, he says.

As described by the researcher, basic notes of Venezuelan cacao are fruity and aromatic with obvious variations. “Those of Aragua have a rather vivid fruity flavor, as well as the variety of Miranda, which as well posesses notes of malt and walnut. Cocoas of Sucre, for example, those of Rio Caribe, are also fruity but with more citrus notes … some tests have determined that certain beans even smell of milk chocolate”.

“This is just a start of what can be done, we are still at the very beginning”, says Buscema regarding this field of study that, if taken momentum, would help us to detect opportunities to compete firmly in the chocolate market.

Chocolate market, great opportunity

While it is true that Venezuela does not occupy a significant place in the production and export of the product on a global scale, our cocoa are recognized for its quality in the chocolate industry. For this reason, distinguishing sensory characteristics of the bean is a fundamental factor associated with the process of making the chocolate. Buscema compares it to a sculptor, who in each process is “modeling” what he wants to obtain, according to his needs.

 that become important for the smell of hard-working chocolatiers eager for new creations, especially those in Europe, where chocolate is most consumed.

As has happened with the production and export of our cocoa, there are many unsettled issues in this subject. In addition to the study of organoleptic properties, the sensory analysis is carried out for specific investigations of public organisms or it is made only by private companies that seek to optimize their production processes.

Defend purity

According to the recent data from the International Cocoa Organization, Icco, today 100% of Venezuelan cocoa is considered fine of aroma, so taking care of its purity is vital. This is more important in view of the latent threat of penetration to the country of hybrids such as the CCN-51, material of proven productivity but of a quality much inferior to that of Venezuelan cacao.

Thus, the development of new research through the use of the available tools, constant innovation and the study of cultivated areas until now little explored, but being of great potential (such as the Bolivar state) are actions that can mark the difference.

In addition to the importance of promoting new studies, Buscema does not neglect the need for an adequate agronomic treatment of the crop, good agricultural practices, pest and disease control, as well as incentivizing the producer so that he could be a guarantor of a better price for cocoa beans.

In this way, the sensorial analysis becomes a kind of “trump card” for the Venezuelan cacao that, used in a timely manner, can lead us to compete in the international chocolate market, in which Venezuelan cacao still occupies a significant place, that justifies the famous phrase: “Our cocoa is the best in the world”.