Chocolate logs a success

February 20, 1998

Julia Hinde reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia

EATING chocolate could one day be "green" as well as delicious.

Much of the world's cocoa, from which chocolate is derived, is grown in vast tropical plantations. As well as damaging the environment through clearing and thinning large swathes of forest, the plants are vulnerable to disease.

But scientists in the United States have come up with a formula for reducing land clearance and potentially helping the environment by stabilising soil and rejuvenating forest.

They are investigating cultivating cocoa in areas of selectively logged Central American forest. Initial results suggest that though the cocoa, which is naturally a forest plant, grows more slowly with restricted light under the forest canopy, it is far less vulnerable to pest attack.

Allen Young of Milwaukee Public Museum told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Philadelphia that this choice of location "also stabilises the soil and adds nutrients following selective logging. People in the past have planted cocoa under the forest canopy, but here may be a way to do it that is environmentally helpful. We are looking at whether there can be a sustainable approach to cocoa growing."

l Chocolate conjures up images of fat for 28 per cent of female undergraduates questioned in Philadelphia and 18 per cent are embarrassed to buy it, according to Paul Rozen, psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He said ? of males also link chocolate to fat.

The equivalent figures for Parisians are just 4 cent of women and 5 per cent of men.

l Devouring chocolate may not be so very different from eating blue cheese or even ham. Harold McGee of Palo Alto, California, said that when chocolate is heated more than 500 different types of molecules are produced.

Flavour chemists have analysed these and asked where else such molecules may be found. Among their findings are propionic acid, which provides the characteristic flavour of Swiss cheese, and methylketone, more commonly seen in blue cheeses.

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