Career Perspectives Jacobs 101 News

Project COMETA: Cracking the Chocolate Vault

Guest Post by: Dilantha Perera, BCCB ’16

Everyone loves Chocolate!

Here at Jacobs University, together with our partners at Barry Callebaut AG, we are working on perfecting the chocolate experience!

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Headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, the Barry Callebaut Group is the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa. With over 50 production facilities and over 9,000 employees operating from more than 30 different countries, Barry Callebaut is a major player in the multibillion dollar conglomerate that is the chocolate industry.

In 2014, the company launched one of their largest and most ambitious research projects: COMETA (Cocoa Metabolomics). The mission: To crack the molecular code of Cocoa by the year 2020! The cocoa bean is made of some 20,000 molecules, making it one of the most complex foodstuff on Earth! No easy task for even the most experienced research groups! But fear not, fellow chocolate lovers! Jacobs University’s very own Prof. Dr. Matthias Ullrich and his team at the Molecular Microbiology Laboratory are on the case! He is joined by Prof. Dr. Nikolai Kuhnert, Prof. Dr. Elke Nevoigt and Prof. Dr. Marc-Thorsten Hütt. Clearly Jacobs is bringing out its big guns!

COMETA team member, Warren John, prepares the cocoa beans for analysis.
COMETA team member – Neha Kumari

The COMETA group at Jacobs University comprises of a diverse group of young scientists from all over the world working tirelessly to unlock the mysteries of the cocoa bean. The team is looking into how the various molecules in the bean, such as proteins, change over the fermentation process. These changes in the protein profile, amongst other things, influence the characteristics of the end product. In other words, the taste, colour and texture, for instance, of the chocolate are dependent on the results of the fermentation process.

In a recent article published by Barry Callebaut’s very own Chocophilia blog, they describe Prof. Ullrich as “a genial scientist who looks a bit like Russell Crowe”. Prof. Ullrich said in his interview with the company, “You have to understand that cocoa is in a category all by itself. You can’t approach it the way you do other foods. I told Barry Callebaut: you tried to solve a riddle. But cocoa is not a riddle. Cocoa is a mystery.” With that kind of attitude, we can be certain that the future of chocolate is in good hands! Looks like Barry Callebaut and Jacobs University will soon give Willy Wonka a run for his money!

Prof. Dr. Matthias Ullrich Professor of Microbiology Life Sciences & Chemistry


For more information on the COMETA Project visit:

References and photo credits: Barry Callebaut AG

1 comment on “Project COMETA: Cracking the Chocolate Vault

  1. Jean Ntawanguwe

    Well said. Thank you for sharing this information

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