Cacao crazy: the chicken eggs that taste of chocolate

Cacao crazy: the chicken eggs that taste of chocolate

by Great British Chefs 1 April 2018

After the discovery of South American chicken eggs that taste of cocoa, chocolatiers and cooks across the world are desperately trying to get their hands on some. We take a look at this fascinating new phenomena and how they were first discovered.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews as well as access to some of Britain’s greatest chefs. Our posts cover everything we are excited about from the latest openings and hottest food trends to brilliant new producers and exclusive chef interviews.

April Fools!

Unfortunately there are no such things as cacao-eating chickens in South America, so you'll have to settle for the normal kind of chocolate eggs. Happy April Fools' Day!

When ornithologist Avril Tontos first heard about groups of wild junglefowl thriving along the Orinoco river in Venezuela, she was intrigued. When she decided to travel there and see them for herself, however, she stumbled onto something much more fascinating. These chickens weren’t only different from any other bird she’d come across before; they were producing eggs that had the potential to change the culinary world forever.

‘It took three days of hiking before I found the first signs of chickens living in the jungle,’ she says. ‘It’s an incredibly hard part of the country to get to and the journey was fraught with danger – the jungle is an incredibly punishing environment to be in and I was just about ready to give up and go home after several days of camping. But then I saw a tree with a few feathers and some scratch marks on the trunk, and I knew I was getting close.’

Avril didn’t have much to go on – her research was a dubious mix of myth, hearsay and a few verbal accounts from locals. But over the past few years these rumours had become more and more frequent, and as someone who had specialised in chickens for her PhD, Avril embarked on an expedition to either prove them false or make the biggest bird-based discovery of the twenty-first century.

The Orinoco River runs through the jungles of Venezuela, making parts of it incredibly difficult to reach
Some of the feathers gathered at the site

Setting up camp near the scratched and feathered tree, Avril sat in wait for her first sighting of the elusive chickens. After a restless night of sleep, she awoke to the unmistakable crow of a rooster, just as the sun was rising. They had arrived. ‘I jumped up, grabbed my camera and rushed out of the tent as fast as I could. This was the moment I’d been waiting for; a chance to see something no one would ever think possible. At first I couldn’t see or hear anything – just the rush of the river in the background – but then there was another crow right above me. I looked up and there was this magnificent rooster, perched on a branch and looking directly at me.’

Several moments passed as Avril and the rooster stared at each other, seeing something completely new for the first time. Mouth agape, she slowly brought the camera up to her eye to take a photo, but as she pressed the shutter she realised something was wrong. Snapping out of her trance, Avril looked at her lens. In her excitement to get out of the tent, she had smashed it, and her hopes of bringing back evidence to her colleagues slipped away.

‘I went into full panic mode,’ she says. ‘There I was, in front of this incredible discovery, and I had no way of documenting what I had seen. All the trekking, all the physical exertion just to get here was for nothing – I didn’t have enough funding to go home and come back again, so I would have to hope my colleagues would believe me without any photographic evidence.’

Artist's rendition of the chickens Avril encountered, called Cocos Pullum Mendacium
The chickens feed on cacao pods which fall to the ground, ferment and then dry in the sun

Dejected but not beaten, Avril gathered herself and decided to stay a while longer to learn everything she could about these chickens. Eventually the rooster led her to a small brood of hens living right on the riverbank. Soon enough, she realised that these chickens could be categorised as a separate species altogether. Avril also discovered the source of their sustenance – these chickens were feeding on wild cacao pods which had fallen to the floor, fermented and then dried in the sun. ‘It was amazing; they seemed to really love the cacao,’ she explains. ‘The pods were picked clean and every time one fell from the tree it was as if the chickens were waiting around for them to develop in flavour.’

The chickens – which Avril named Cocos Pullum Mendacium – were certainly thriving in their habitat, and after sketching their appearance and noting down everything she could, Avril decided it was time to return home. Just as she was packing up and setting off, she realised she had misplaced her rations for the trek to the nearest town. In a state of panic, she broke the most sacred rule all ornithologists adhere to. She took a few eggs, cracked them into a pan and cooked them on her camping stove. In doing so, however, she made the discovery of a lifetime. ‘The eggs tasted like the richest, most beautiful bar of chocolate you’ve ever eaten!’ she exclaims. ‘They were incredible – they looked just like your average hen’s egg, but had a beautiful, almost fruity flavour. It was the chickens’ cacao-heavy diet that was responsible – they must have a certain way of processing it in a way that effects the flavour of their eggs.’

Giddy with excitement, Avril stashed a few more eggs in her bag to take home and set off to tell everyone she could about her discoveries. After some initial raised eyebrows, the world’s top ornithologists began to believe Avril’s incredible story, and decided to fund another expedition to gather more information.

It was amazing – they seemed to really love the cacao. The pods were picked clean and every time one fell from the tree it was as if the chickens were waiting around for them to develop in flavour.

Avril Tontos

The eggs may look normal, but they have the unmistakable taste of chocolate
One of the few creations Avril's team have made with the chocolate eggs

Fast-forward to today, and Avril now heads up a lab dedicated to learning more about these very special birds. ‘We brought some back with us to start breeding them domestically, but we were careful to leave some in the jungle so they could continue to thrive in the wild,’ she says. ‘We now have a small organic, free-range farm producing these chocolate eggs, which are in high demand from the world’s top chocolatiers. They’re fantastic to bake with, as they add a natural chocolate flavour to cakes, and I really like them simply fried with a sprinkling of sugar on top.’

Avril has also started experimenting with different cacao pods from around the world, feeding the chickens a strict diet of single origin beans to create eggs with different tasting notes. ‘We’re also breeding chicks which are raised on a diet of cocoa butter, in the hope that they will eventually produce white chocolate eggs,’ she says. ‘It’s still early days, but I really think that in a few years when we ramp up production these little eggs will change the face of the food industry as we know it. Easter is going to be massive for us – imagine a fresh chocolate egg that’s completely natural from an actual chicken. It really is unbelievable!’