Student Stories: Horticulture major studies cacao beans in France

Two weeks in Paris might sound like a dream vacation, but for Brian Rutkowski, the trip was just one component of his ag business management class.

Rutkowski, a recent graduate in horticulture, in the College of Agricultural Sciences, learned about the course when one of its professors visited his introductory horticulture class. He explained that the course focuses on the similarities and differences between the food and agricultural systems of the United States and France.

At the conclusion of the course, students chose one crop or food and gave a presentation focusing on that product. Rutkowski focused his presentation on the cacao bean.

"The chocolate industry is important for the economies of the United States and France alike. Chocolate generates more than $100 billion in revenue annually and continues to rise," Rutkowski said.

He also noted that France has more agricultural policies than the United States, particularly when it comes to its stance on genetically modified ingredients.

"Currently, there is no genetically modified chocolate on the market, but the United States is working toward it. If genetically modified chocolate ever hits the market, the French will never sell it because they do not believe GMOs are safe for human consumption," he said.

"It is possible for companies in the United States to use genetically modified soy lecithin, an emulsifier in chocolate, but you would never see it in chocolate in France."

For Rutkowski, the highlights of the trip included the food, developing personal friendships and, of course, sightseeing.

"The gardens were a sight to see. Since there are so many large public gardens, I was not able to see them all, but one of my favorites was our host school Agro Paris Tech’s green roof. The vegetables and ground covers growing on the roof for research purposes were really interesting, as it was right in the middle of the city."

Since returning from Paris, Rutkowski has been working in a cacao research lab at Penn State, where he has learned more about the different types of cacao beans.

"In France, I bought a few chocolate bars, one of which was Pure Origin Venezuela Porcelana, made from Criollo beans. These beans are very susceptible to disease, which is why they make such a rare chocolate. In the lab, we are growing one of these trees."

After earning his degree this spring, Rutkowski hoped to return to Paris.

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Last Updated June 26, 2015