Did you know that the utility of our good friend scaccharomyces cerevisiae isn’t just limited to bread, beer and wine? Indeed it plays a critical role in chocolate production. Cocoa beans, you see, are a pretty bland and flavorless thing at the time of harvest. In order to become “chocolate” they have to undergo a curing process, a critical part of which is fermentation with some of the usual microbial suspects: yeasts and lactic acid bacteria.
Like grapes, cocoa seed pods on the vine (actually tree) are for all intents and purposes sterile on the inside. Yeasts live on the outside of the pods eager for access to the sugary cocoa pulp, and to a lesser extent the cocoa beans embedded within it. When cocoa is harvested, the football-sized pods are split open and the pulp and beans scoooped out. The whole mess left to ferment in wooden boxes for roughly a week, during which time yeasts and bacteria break down the pulp. This has the effect of coloring and enhancing the flavor of the beans.
After fermentation the beans are cleaned, dried, roasted, and finally ground into chocolate liquor, the raw material of the chocolate making industry.