If you thought the taste of chocolate Easter eggs was as good as it gets, scientists may be able to make it a whole lot better.

US researchers in Seattle say work with wild yeast strains could dramatically improve the taste and quality of chocolate. Yeasts are used to ferment cocoa during chocolate production and can modify the aroma of the resulting chocolate.

From their genetic studies, scientists at the Pacific Northwest Diabetes Research Institute have found that yeast strains show great diversity - more so than yeasts associated with wine making.

After they are picked, both cacao and coffee are fermented to break down the surrounding pulp. This microbe-driven process also has an important influence on the character and flavour of the beans. Researcher Aimee Dudley and her colleagues concluded that the yeast strains associated with coffee and cacao have multiple, independent origins. In other words, not all cacao of coffee strains are related.

Advertisement

The researchers say the findings could lead to improvement in chocolate and coffee. Studies of wine production have shown that the yeasts associated with wine fermentation significantly influence the properties of the wine, including its flavour and aroma.

"Given that the yeast strains associated with coffee and cacao fermentations are substantially more genetically diverse than the wine strains, they could play an even larger role in the properties of coffee and cacao produced in different regions of the globe."

Professor Richard Gardner of the University of Auckland explained that the fermentation process is very important in the final chocolate flavour and research on this topic is invaluable.

"Up until now chocolate has been produced using whatever yeasts are in the beans ...

"But it seems likely that, as we understand the chocolate production process better, it should be possible to develop specific and improved strains of yeast, perhaps bacteria, that can act as starters to make a wider range of different chocolates with different flavours."