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HomeTechEaster bunnies, cocoa beans and pollinating insects: a basket of 6 chocolate...

Easter bunnies, cocoa beans and pollinating insects: a basket of 6 chocolate essentials


Tens of millions of chocolate bunnies sold every Easter in the US. Here are six articles about chocolate from The Conversation’s archive – great reading while nibbling your own bunny’s ears (if you’re one of the three-quarters of Americans who start on the top).

1. Food scientist in the field of cocoa chemistry

Chocolate bunnies don’t grow on trees, but cocoa pods do. It takes a lot of processing to get from the raw agricultural input to the finished output.

Nutrition scientist Sheryl Barringer of Ohio State University wrote about several chemical reactions that are part of the transformation of beans into chocolate. One is the Maillard reaction, the same one that gives the browned bits on roast meat or the golden crust of a loaf of bread their flavor. Barringer also explains that weird white things — known as blooms — that can appear on your Easter chocolates if they stick around for a while. (Don’t worry, it’s still edible.)

Read more: Chocolate chemistry – a food scientist explains how the beloved treat gets its taste, texture and tricky reputation as an ingredient

2. Chocolate is a fermented food

Nutrition Science Ph.D. candidate Catlin Clark from Colorado State University, her research focuses on the microbes responsible for much of chocolate’s taste. As a fermented food, chocolate relies on yeast and bacteria to convert a raw ingredient into the treat you can recognize.

Clark described how the microorganisms naturally occurring in a given geographic location can give high-quality chocolates their “terroir” – “the characteristic flair bestowed by a place” that you may be more accustomed to in relation to wine.

Read more: Chocolate’s secret ingredient is the fermenting microbes that make it taste so good

Small flies spread pollen from one cocoa tree to another.
dimarik/iStock via Getty Images Plus

3. Pollinators are an important part of the process

Cocoa growers rely on another small ally to pollinate their crop. Entomologist DeWayne Shoemaker from the University of Tennessee described the miniflies — especially biting midges and gall midges — that get the job done. “Pollinators must pick up pollen from the male parts of a flower on one tree and deposit it on the female parts of a flower on another tree,” Shoemaker wrote.

But up to 90% of cocoa flowers are not pollinated at all. Humans can hand-pollinate the tiny flowers, but it remains a mystery which other insects might do the job in the wild.

Read more: Tiny cocoa flowers and fickle mosquitoes are part of a pollination puzzle limiting chocolate production

4. Child labor is the bitter secret of chocolate

Harvesting and processing cocoa is labour-intensive. To meet this need, some farmers turn to child labor. Cultural anthropologist Robert Ulin from the Rochester Institute of Technology described how the global chocolate industry is tied to inequality through exploitative labor practices.

“The largest chocolate companies signed a protocol in 2001 condemning child labor and child slavery,” Ulin wrote. But he noted that consumers may want more information to ensure their purchasing power supports “fair labor practices in the chocolate sector.”

Read more: Some chocolate has a dark side: child labor

Dog and woman, both with Easter bunny ears
Don’t share your chocolates with your dog.
FJ Jimenez/Moment via Getty Images

5. Not safe for furry family members

Eating a ton of chocolate is probably not a healthy choice for anyone. But even a little bit of chocolate can be deadly to dogs and cats.

In an article about all kinds of holiday foods that are unsafe for pets, veterinarian and researcher Leticia Fanucchi of Oklahoma State University explained the chemicals in this human delicacy that can cause fatal “chocolate intoxication.” Don’t wait too long to call in vets if your pet does loot your Easter basket.

Read more: Holiday food can be toxic to pets – a vet explains what, and what to do if Rover or Kitty eat them

6. An enslaved chocolatier in colonial America

Born in 1732, an enslaved cook named Caesar was one of the first chocolatiers in the American colonies. Historical archaeologist Kelly Fanto Deetz of the University of California, Berkeley described how Caesar “should have roasted the cocoa beans in the fireplace, dipped them by hand, ground the nibs on a heated chocolate stone, then scraped the raw cocoa, added milk or water, cinnamon , nutmeg or vanilla and serve piping hot.”

Cocoa was a hot commodity for Virginia’s white elite during this period, when it was a culinary staple—along with pineapple, Madeira wine, port, champagne, coffee, and sugar—of the Columbian Exchange.

Read more: Oppression in the kitchen, delight in the dining room: the story of Caesar, an enslaved chef and chocolatier in Colonial Virginia

Editor’s Note: This story is a collection of articles from the archives of The Conversation.

The author of what'snew2day.com is dedicated to keeping you up-to-date on the latest news and information.

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