The microbiology of cocoa fermentation and its role in chocolate quality

Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2004;44(4):205-21. doi: 10.1080/10408690490464104.


The first stage of chocolate production consists of a natural, seven-day microbial fermentation of the pectinaceous pulp surrounding beans of the tree Theobroma cacao. There is a microbial succession of a wide range of yeasts, lactic-acid, and acetic-acid bacteria during which high temperatures of up to 50 degrees C and microbial products, such as ethanol, lactic acid, and acetic acid, kill the beans and cause production of flavor precursors. Over-fermentation leads to a rise in bacilli and filamentous fungi that can cause off-flavors. The physiological roles of the predominant micro-organisms are now reasonably well understood and the crucial importance of a well-ordered microbial succession in cocoa aroma has been established. It has been possible to use a synthetic microbial cocktail inoculum of just 5 species, including members of the 3 principal groups, to mimic the natural fermentation process and yield good quality chocolate. Reduction of the amount of pectin by physical or mechanical means can also lead to an improved fermentation in reduced time and the juice can be used as a high-value byproduct. To improve the quality of the processed beans, more research is needed on pectinase production by yeasts, better depulping, fermenter design, and the use of starter cultures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetic Acid / metabolism
  • Cacao / microbiology*
  • Cacao / standards*
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Fermentation
  • Food Microbiology*
  • Food Technology / methods*
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism
  • Lactobacillus / metabolism*
  • Lactobacillus / physiology
  • Pectins / metabolism
  • Polygalacturonase / metabolism
  • Yeasts / metabolism
  • Yeasts / physiology


  • Lactic Acid
  • Ethanol
  • Pectins
  • Polygalacturonase
  • Acetic Acid