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I am inspired by some people who apparently believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

I know that for sweet, delicious chocolate to come into existence, we need to do things to cocoa. Ferment it, grind it, mix it, bake it. That's boring. Besides, as cheap as human labour comes, animal don't unionise.

Would it be possible for us to engineer a creature (preferably an animal) that produces chocolate from its teats (or other parts)?

Conditions:

  1. I am willing to accept all kinds of animals, i.e.: if aphids are a better choice for the task, so be it.
  2. Due to the above, the final product doesn't have to be milk chocolate. The goal is met when we have the raw, bitter stuff.
  3. If chocolate is not possible, then cocoa butter, cocoa solids or a mix of both are acceptable.
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    $\begingroup$ does it have to be an animals or could it be a plant or fungi? $\endgroup$ – John Aug 21 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ @John I am going for animals because sessile beings already failed hard at this. If you think a plant or fungus would do it, by all means, I am interested. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 22 at 1:53
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    $\begingroup$ I expected a Foie Gras like answer. $\endgroup$ – xdtTransform Aug 23 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Um, @John, but cocoa does come from a plant. ??? $\endgroup$ – Octopus Aug 23 at 19:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Octopus Cocoa is a plant. And it doesn't come with the processed products. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 23 at 19:40
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Ok, so this seems pretty simple. There are three basic things that happen to turn cocoa beans into something reasonably approximating chocolate.

1: Fermentation

Counterintuitively, the first step in turning Cocoa beans into chocolate is getting RID of the sugars that are already there, allowing the natural yeasts and micro-organisms to turn the sugars in a ripe bean into alcohol, and then acetic acid. This is critical in generating the aromas and flavors that we associate with chocolate.

Fermentation is also a pretty common process in digestion though, so it's totally plausible that an organism could eat the beans and, in the process of digesting them, complete the fermentation.

2: Roasting

The roasting does a few things. It removes the husks from the actual choco-meat, it sterilizes the choco-meat, and it does some more chemstry to improve the flavor. In the case of an animal, the first of those items can be handled by chewing, the second is... probably just not going to happen, and the third can be managed by the appropriate acidic environment in the digestive system.

3: Addition of sugar The easiest way to manage this is for our animal to supplement its diet of cocoa beans with other stuff that has lots of sugar. Fruits, for example, sugar cane depending on location, stuff like that.

All of that having been said, there's a clear answer right here.

BEES!

Big, freaking, cretaceous sized monster bees. They do the honey thing, but ALSO like to have a gnosh on cocoa beans. The two things get mixed together and then vomited up into giant beehives just like modern bees do honey, only more choco-tastic.

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    $\begingroup$ Chocolate coming from a beehive?!? Shut up and take my money! $\endgroup$ – MongoTheGeek Aug 21 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ Side note, one of Milton Hershey's trick to get milk chocolate to set properly was the addition of wax. $\endgroup$ – MongoTheGeek Aug 21 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @MongoTheGeek sure, why not? Bees are already turning botanical compounds into delicious, magical substance. Seems like the easiest starting point for some good old fashioned Mad Science. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Aug 21 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ A decent part of the cooking is breaking down alkaloids which you could engineer them to not produce in the first place. $\endgroup$ – John Aug 21 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ Bees producing chocolate sounds like heaven to me! $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 22 at 1:55
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You might want to have a look at this patent about artificial chocolate flavor

https://patents.google.com/patent/US2835590A/en

If it is possible to produce the flavor in the laboratory it should be possible to maybe create certain bacteria to do the job for you. You might however need more than one kind and they would still need to grow in big and controlled storages. I’m not a bio engineer but maybe someone else can give a more profound answer to my claim.

Once you have the flavor you probably can produce something similar in taste to natural chocolate.

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    $\begingroup$ If we know the chemicals and know possible pathway to synthesize them, then it becomes easy to create GMO yeast to do that. There already is GMO yeast that produces insulin. $\endgroup$ – Euphoric Aug 22 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ Do you know if this might require a set of yeasts bacteria’s or if it can be done with just one theoretically? $\endgroup$ – World Peace Aug 22 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Euphoric actually, not so direct. Insulin is a protein, so you can directly codify it in the DNA; in general, figuring out a biological pathway is not straightforward. In this case, it seems that it is a short peptide (easy) reacting with a reducing polysaccharide (bacteria do this naturally, we can tune it), but the reaction must be anhydrous (bad for bacteria). We can, in principle, farm them independently and react aside. Note: the text is not very clear, so my comment is based on my educated understanding. $\endgroup$ – Davidmh Aug 22 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ That’s interesting David. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – World Peace Aug 22 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ @KalleMP insuline is definitely short, 50 amino acids long, when the average protein is 400 amino acids long (the difference between peptide and protein is just length). I say it is "easy" because cells have the machinery to synthesise proteins, you just need to write it into the DNA, and the bacteria or yeast will start churning it. We have recipes to produce almost any amino acid sequence, but there is not a general recipe for any biomolecule. $\endgroup$ – Davidmh Aug 25 at 17:08
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Since it is already the case that goats have been modified to produce spider silk in their milk, it would not be a big stretch to have them make the chemical components of chocolate.

However, since there are between 300 and 500 different chemicals in chocolate it might be a lot easier just to get chocolate from the plants we already do. Probably to get non-lethal and pleasant tasting chocolate would take a lot of "nudging, poking, probing, twiddling, fiddling, and messing around."

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    $\begingroup$ "You can take the chocolate out of the goat, but you can't take the goat out of the chocolate" $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Aug 21 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ Even getting it from the plants is difficult, because there are all sorts of weird phase changes and ageing effects during the production process. Part of the reason why there are so many different subtle (and not so subtle) flavours of stuff that all claim to be chocolate (some more convincingly than others). $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Aug 21 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ Mmmm...goat chocolate plus gjetost! $\endgroup$ – Dennis Williamson Aug 22 at 23:10
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You don't want to use animals, use a plant instead.

Considering all the ingredients are biological products there is no reason you can't engineer it however you want given enough time and effort. Although it might be easier to just engineer the cacao plant considering all the ingredients are already present. Plants are good choice becasue they are energetically easy to work with and already have most of the right pathways. Animals are rarely a good choice for plant based genes, the pathways used by animals and plants are often too different for compatibility.

There are a couple of ways to approach it.

Fruit, dark chocolate fruit sounds amazing.

You need to engineer them to produce it in the fruit flesh instead of just the seeds, producing fewer alkaloids will help as well that is where the bitterness comes from. Fermentation is just the breakdown of existing biochemicals which could also be engineered its a fairly common biological process.

Seeds, this is the easiest but also the least like what you want.

This is similar to engineering it into the fruit flesh. The positive of doing it this way is you get something much closer to the texture of chocolate since there is no need for fiber. The down side is you will likely end up with a sterile product so you have the same problems bananas have, AKA genetic uniformity. You also still have significant processing required.

Chocolate avocado.

This is the most engineering intensive but will also give the best result. The avocado is already a uniquely protein and fat rich fruit. You are engineering it to produce a different set of proteins and fats. You can get a texture similar to chocolate without much processing possibly none. Done properly you might even get the giant seed in the center tp produce something similar to contemporary chocolate, which is good for your bakers and cocoa drinkers. Of course seedless avocado exist, so you could have basically solif chocolate inside a a skin.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think a close match would be chocolate flavoured coconut meat. Harvested a bit earlier it is remarkably similar in texture and already has pathways for making hard oils and aromatic things. $\endgroup$ – KalleMP Aug 24 at 17:28
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Chocolate contains theobromine, an alchaloid like caffeine, cocaine etc. All these alchaloid toxins are used by the plants as defense against attackers (though we humans get usually oddly addicted to those which do not kills us immediately).

Which animals already produce toxins? Some tetraodontiformes fishes, several spiders, several snakes, several insects.

You would need to add more to just theobromine, but you have already the reactor.

Insects, spiders and snakes would have little individual production, but the first two can compensate with large numbers per unit surface. Plus spiders could produce chocolate in convenient filaments, instead of their silk.

The tetraodontiformes fishes could have their whole body made of chocolate, similarly to how its bowels and skin are already packed with tetrodotoxin.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've never heard a puffer fish called a tetrodon ball fish... even google doesn't seem to have heard of that form! $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Aug 21 at 20:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Starish Prime, fixed $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Aug 21 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime they're also known as puffers! Or pufferfish. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 21 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ Basing the answer on the fact that animals already produce one kind of chemical of the hundreds present in chocolate is a bit far fetched. Especially because Theobromine isn't the source for the flavor but rather one of the chemicals which can be associated with negative effects of chocolate. My body can produce Serotonin, which is a positive ingredient of chocolate, so now I am as qualified as your proposed pufferfish for producing chocolate. -1 $\endgroup$ – GittingGud Aug 22 at 5:54
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    $\begingroup$ @GittingGud it's a matter of quantity. If you could produce enough of it in order for me to harvest it from your body, I'd be cool with that. Also theobromine has some positive health effects depending on dosage. It is diuretic and a heart stimulant. +1. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 22 at 14:10
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I think you should check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_luwak. It is a kind of coffee. A cat-like animal - the civet - eats the coffee beans and transforms the raw product into one of the world's most expensive coffee blends. You are drinking poop (and you paid a lot of money to drink poop).

IF you fed chocolate beans to a civet I would not eat its poop, but someone else would and they would probably pay you a bunch of money for it.

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Yes, the cocoa plant.

You said in a comment you'd accept plants. So, this clearly is the most obvious answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Smart, but check John's answer. I am not interested in cocoa beans, I am interested in cocoa solids or cocoa butter. $\endgroup$ – Renan Aug 23 at 19:42

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