A crisis of chocolate

Rough-cut blocks of chocolate sit in front of a hessian bag full of cocoa beans (chocolate crisis)

Chocolate is one of the most universally loved foods across the planet. It’s hard to find an individual who doesn’t love this decadent sweet in some form or another. But chocolate is in danger. The culprit: climate change.

Made using the processed seeds of the cacao tree, chocolate is heavily dependent on the farming of this plant predominantly across Africa and into India, Australia, South America, and the Caribbean.

Although cacao trees typically thrive in areas with intense tropical climates, if temperatures rise too high, they start to wither due to their moisture escaping into the soil. Seeking more humid climes, farmers have been moving their plantations to higher ground, leaving the area that can successfully be used to grow cacao trees diminished.

This has been an ongoing issue for years, with researchers in 2018 predicting that chocolate could leave our shelves within the next 40 years.

However, all hope is not lost. Scientists at the University of California have been working to edit the genes of cacao trees to make them more resistant to higher temperatures and lower humidities.

Other researchers at San Francisco’s California Cultured have succeeded in synthetically creating a chocolate equivalent to combat the foreseen shortages. Cacao cells were harvested from the beans and then cultured and treated over the course of ten months so that they could be ground up in the same way that naturally occurring cacao beans are in order to produce an entirely man-made chocolate.

Alan Perlstein, CEO of California Cultured, told The Atlantic that the synthetic chocolate tastes almost exactly the same as the real thing, because “most of cocoa’s flavour comes from how [the beans] are processed.”

Could this be the future of chocolate? Possibly, and it could come sooner than we think.

Alan continued, “If everything works according to plan, it will take around four years to make a bar of chocolate that convinces me.”

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