Chocolate Aftertaste and Microbes in Your Mouth

Hi all,

Yes, I know it is an odd title for a blog post, but I came across an article at Science Daily that really got me thinking about the impact of our invisible little friends on the flavor of chocolate. Of course I’ve already talked about the impact of bacteria and yeasts on the flavor of chocolate as regards post-harvest processing of cacao such as fermentation–where I’ve compared the result to wine and beer–but the flavor impacts that I’m thinking about now have nothing to do with changing the chocolate itself, and everything to do with what happens after the finished chocolate is in your mouth.

The authors of the study cited in the article above have noted that certain chemical compounds that are normally tasteless, when exposed to microbes that are naturally present in the mouth and/or throat, are transformed into aromatic compounds that impact flavor in interesting and unique ways, in some cases giving off what we would consider to be the “characteristic odor” of a particular food. Specifically, the paper focuses on what we often call “aftertaste.” The idea is that it takes some time–maybe 20-30 seconds–for the bacteria to carry out the transformation from the odorless compound to the aromatic compound, so it isn’t until the end of a tasting experience that certain flavors become obvious.

Thinking back to all of the chocolates that I’ve tasted, some with magnificent, long-lasting finishes, and others that seem to spiral so quickly to an unsatisfying demise, it makes me wonder once more about the reason for the differences, and whether the microbes in my mouth had any say in the matter. There are a million implications to all of this, including whether the compounds that these bacteria might be processing are naturally present in cacao or not, and if not, how they get there–fermentation, oxidation during drying, roasting??

Lots of food for thought, so to speak, and speaking of thought, who knows, maybe they’ll find out that there are microbes that change the way we think as well.

‘Til next time,

Alan