What is behind the aroma of dark chocolate?

Chocolate lovers can agree that the smell of fresh chocolate entices the senses with a mouthwatering sensation of euphoria. What most people don’t know, however, is that this complex taste, particularly in dark chocolate, is the result of a combination of 25 different molecules which all come together to create the scent we all know and love.

On 8 May, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry published a paper exploring the hidden smell of dark chocolate. Using cacao plants of 90 to 99 percent, chemists sought to recreate the scent to a panel of trained sniffers. The researchers purchased two types of dark chocolate with distinct aromas and did aroma extract dilution analysis. Using these analytical machines, they were able to identify around 77 compounds that could be the cause of the aroma of dark chocolate. Out of those, a couple were in such small concentrations they could not be detected by the human nose but 30 others were identified as potential scents.

Contrary to what you might believe, many of the scents individually are not appetizing on their own. Chemicals like acetic acid, which smells like vinegar, dimethyl trisulfide, which smells like cabbage, and 3-methylbutanoic acid which smells like sweat combined to create the mixture known as the dark chocolate smell. There were, however, more pleasant scents like vanillin which smells like vanilla and linalool which smells like flowers. This odd combination of both foul and pleasant orders creates the symphony of smells that create dark chocolate.

“These single odorants usually never have the typical smell of the food itself”,” says a food chemist Micharl Granvogl at the University of Hohenheim in Germany. Scent is dependent on the molecules present and the levels of each chemical.

The goal of this study was to help identify the causes of smells which can help people understand what is wrong with expired food products that smell off or have a foul taste. The study has also suggested that flavour and smell are a result of a combination of small molecules working together harmoniously to bring us the world of scent and taste.

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