Think you eat a lot of chocolate? Ed Seguine has you beat, as a Mars Chocolate Research Fellow —this year he’s on track to taste more than 12,000 samples of the “Food of the Gods.” Here we take a look at what his role at Mars involves on a day-to-day basis.
What is your title and what does your role entail?
When folks ask what a Chocolate Research Fellow does, I explain that I get to taste chocolate! Immediately, I get the response “Oh, do you need an assistant?” I tell them they might not like the chocolate because it’s without sugar—in its purest form so I can assess the flavor of the originating cocoa.
More specifically, I lead the Mars Cocoa Sensory Science Program. My mission is to help map flavors of the world’s cocoas to the cocoa genome. Through better understanding of the genome, researchers can improve cacao breeding to ensure that we maintain the fabulous flavors we find in cacao and that we love in the taste of chocolate..
Why is this work so important?
From a global sustainability standpoint, cocoa is under threat; we must provide farmers with superior planting material that will dramatically raise yields, provide resistance to devastating cocoa diseases, and create a controlled architecture of the trees. If we’re not careful, we could accidentally breed flavor out. That is not the Mars way—our first principle is quality, and flavor is key to quality in cocoa.
Where are you located?
I am primarily based in Elizabethtown but spend time in Hackettstown, our Mars Center for Cocoa Science (MCCS) in the heart of the cocoa growing area in the state of Bahia, Brazil, Miami where the cocoa plant science is based at the USDA Tropical Agricultural Research Station, and with our partners in cocoa research and breeding around the world.
What does a typical day on the job look like?
A typical day starts at 4 am and begins with tasting 25 to 30 samples of unsweetened chocolate. I’m something of a tasting machine, using a highly specific protocol to taste every five minutes, +/- 5 seconds. Later in the day or evening, I’ll taste another set of 25 to 30 samples. During the day, I connect via email and phone with Associates and cocoa researchers outside Mars from around the world. Last year, I evaluated almost 10,000 samples of unsweetened chocolate. This year my goal is 12,000+. This is the Mars Efficiency Principle!
What does a not-so-typical day look like?
Every day is totally different, so “not-so-typical” is a little difficult to define. While travel connects me in a hands-on way with Associates working on cocoa projects, it does take away from tasting. I have a kit that allows me some ability to taste on the road. “Have tasting kit, will taste and travel.”
What are the high points of your job?
The discovery of an unexpected flavor in a cocoa sample—brilliant fresh fruit or floral flower notes; pure, direct and perfectly clean chocolate intensity; nuts and caramel notes—these are the little gems of surprise that make you want to shout, “Oh, yeah!”
What do you want people to know about your business?
The 5 Principles are at the core of everything we do in cocoa and chocolate. The genome was sequenced with Mutuality, Quality, and Efficiency as core operatives.
What do you find satisfying about your work?
When Mars announced the sequencing of the genome, it did so with a critical provision: that it would be placed in the public domain and protected so that farmers, researchers, breeders, and governments of cocoa growing countries the world over would have free and open access to the sequence to create superior planting materials—to help the lives of some 6.5 million farmers globally.