DNA Test Could Detect Counterfeit Chocolate

"This is NOT pure criollo cacao, bro. Science says so."

Chocolate, nom nom nom

Dreamstime

Life's like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get... including whether or not your favorite confection contains the top-quality cacao beans it advertises, or ones of lower quality. As demand grows for high-end chocolate, made from the choicest of beans from specific locations, so too does the practice of mixing in lower-priced substitutes. Genetic tests have been used to determine origins of coffee and related products, but chocolate has proved more difficult.

But a new test could change that. As Discovery News reports:

Researchers at the USDA's agricultural research station in Greenbelt, Md., figured out how to overcome this problem using small SNPs or single nucleotide proteins ("snips") that make up unique fingerprints of different cacao species and hybrid varieties...

Zhang, who worked at a cacao research center in Peru for a decade, decided to use the seed coat of the cacao bean to extract the DNA needed to make a positive identification of the plant's origins. Zhang and colleagues successfully identified the location of the type of cacao trees grown in the Cajamarca Province of Peru as compared to the kind of cacao grown in other parts of Peru, Brazil, Trinidad and Ecuador.

One outside researcher, Louis Grivetti, a professor emeritus of nutritional sciences at the University of California, Davis, told Discovery News that while the test could be used to distinguish between cacao varities, it wouldn't necessarily result in better-tasting chocolate, as that may be more strongly influenced by production techniques. The test will also cost a lot, though Grivetti conceded some consumers would likely be willing to pay extra for it.