Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Is Chocolate Endangered?

Valentine's Day is a big day for chocolate. The ancient Mayans said it was the food of the gods. In the 19th century, it was considered an aphrodisiac. This past Valentine's Day, Americans spent an estimated $1.7 billion on chocolate. Globally, it is a $98 billion a year product.

Consumer demand for chocolate is on the rise. But the cacao tree, the seeds of which yield cocoa powder, is threatened by pests, fungal infections and climate change.

A New Jersey connection comes to us via Mars Wrigley Confectionary. This $35 billion corporation needs chocolate and knows about the problems connected to it.  Last September, the company pledged $1 billion as part of an effort called "Sustainability in a Generation," which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of its business and supply chain by more than 60% by 2050.

The chocolate company behind M&M's, Snickers, and Twix, is expanding in New Jersey. The company announced that it will open its U.S. headquarters in NJ. The HQ will have two locations, one in their existing offices in Hackettstown, and another in a new space in Newark that will bring about 500 jobs to the city when it is up and running by July 2020.

Chocolate is made from Theobroma cacao seeds, roasted and ground. Theobroma cacao, also called the cacao tree and the cocoa tree, is a small evergreen tree native to the deep tropical regions of Central and South America. Its seeds, cocoa beans, are used to make cocoa mass, cocoa powder, confectionery, ganache and chocolate.

Researchers are working on multiple approaches that could bolster the fragile tree. The pests and diseases to which cacao is subject, along with climate change, mean that new varieties will be needed to respond to these challenges. Breeders rely on the genetic diversity conserved in field genebanks to create new varieties, because cacao has recalcitrant seeds that cannot be stored in a conventional genebank.

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