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Scientists finally understood, what gives chocolate its deliciously smooth texture

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Posted May 11, 2019

Not all chocolate has been created equal. There is a lot of good chocolate, but there is a lot of bad chocolate as well. The peculiar thing about it is that good and bad chocolate can be technically made from the same ingredients. So what actually makes chocolate good? Scientists from New York University and the University of Edinburgh found that the secret is conching.

For hundreds of years chocolate has been a cultural staple and world’s favourite desert. Image credit: Simon A. Eugster via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Conching is a chocolate mixing technique, which is believed to be responsible for chocolate’s distinctive smooth texture. Texture is extremely important for the quality of the chocolate. It has to be smooth and creamy and decently rigid to be any good. Conching was developed by Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt back in 1879. However, despite being very old, this technique is actually poorly understood. Why does it change the texture of the chocolate? How a simple mixing of liquid chocolate can alter the physical properties of the solid chocolate? What makes conching so effective?

Seeing that science is lacking in this area, researchers decided to study this process a bit closer. Scientists measured the density of mixtures of chocolate and how they flow at various stages of the process. They found that conching, which involves mixing ingredients for several hours, breaks down lumps of ingredients into finer grains. In fact, conching reduces the microscopic sugar crystals and other granular ingredients of chocolate. Reduced particle size makes for a smoother, freely flowing mixture, which is associated with a high-quality chocolate.

Many people don’t know that before conching was invented and in some form introduced in chocolate industry, chocolate actually had a gritty texture. It was brittle and had irregularly sized particles. It was a long and tedious mixing that lead to a nicer chocolate that we enjoy today. Now scientists say that a similar process could be applied in other industries, such as ceramics manufacturing and cement production. But, of course, chocolate is actually in the epicentre of attention.

Professor Wilson Poon, one of the authors of the study, said that he hopes that this research will improve the manufacturing methods of the world’s favourite desert. “By studying chocolate making, we have been able to gain new insights into the fundamental physics of how complex mixtures flow. This is a great example of how physics can build bridges between disciplines and sectors”, he added.

Chocolate is still considered to be a luxury desert, despite its widespread popularity. Hopefully a better scientific understanding of the chocolate’s past will make for even more delicious chocolate in the future.

Source: University of Edinburgh

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