That fancy premium chocolate from Tanzania that you spent £10 on at Waitrose last night might not be as fancy or premium as you think. Lower quality cacao is often mixed into even the best chocolate, which is precisely why scientists have now developed a method for authenticating the varietal purity and origin of cacao beans.
A team led by Dapeng Zhang designed the method, using DNA markers called SNPs. These work sort of like footprints for individual cacao species and can be applied both to single cacao beans or to large samples. Inevitably, the method won't just be useful in verifying the purity of premium chocolate: it will also encourage growers to preserve the biodiversity of different cacao species, rather than growing only the cheapest and easiest beans that can then be mixed with more expensive strains.
While this is the first known test for cacao beans, the idea of food authentication is actually quite widespread. From wild mushrooms to fish, these kinds of methods have been applied to a huge range of foods. There are even entire companies devoted to verifying that certain wine varietals are what the label says they are. At the end of the day, counterfeiting happens with food and drink—especially very expensive food and drink—just as it does with handbags or watches. Thank god we've got science to fight back. [PhysOrg]
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