Bolivia is not one of the main world producers of cocoa beans, it is not even in the top 10, but it is one of the most interesting.
Bolivia is, however, one of the largest producers of uncultivated wild cocoa beans in the world. A new study by Swiss researchers takes a look at the future of the nation's famous chocolate. And, as in many other recent agricultural studies, it seems that the changing climate has an effect again.
This is not the first time we reported on studies like this. Earlier this year, it was learned that a longer flowering season for some plants may mean bad news for bees; that farmers and ranchers are experiencing simultaneous droughts and floods; and that we may be heading to a new bowl of dust, among other situations.
This new chocolate study set out to discover if certain external forces can have an effect on the taste of cocoa beans. To do this, they measured the chemical composition (phenols, taste, fat content and antioxidant content) in samples taken from Bolivian cacao trees under different growing conditions. Some trees are mixed with other trees and grow in the shade; others grow alone in the sunlight.
The objective was to find out if "stress" could have an effect on the taste of cocoa. There is an axiom often repeated, although not entirely accurate, in the cultivation of wine grapes that says that the more stressed the plant is, the better the grapes are. It is believed that when a vine lacks nutrients or water, it forgoes to cultivate more leaves and vines to make more effort to cultivate its fruit in the desperate and evolutionary hope that a more tasty fruit will result in its consumption and its seeds will disperse more widely. .
The researchers found little difference between the chemical composition of the grains taken from those different growth conditions, but they did find a significant difference due to another factor: climate. In situations with higher temperatures and less moisture in the soil, cocoa beans showed significantly higher phenolic and antioxidant levels and lower fat content. (Fat is not as important as it sounds in chocolate, it is usually separated from beans as cocoa butter.)
Bolivia, not coincidentally, is cataloged by OxFam as extremely vulnerable to the disastrous effects of climate change due to its existing equatorial climate, poverty and biodiversity. The same applies to many of the other cocoa-producing countries of the world. Climate change, of course, is a strange and encompassing force.