Canadian scientists find key to high-quality, eco-friendly chocolate

Food scientists at the University of Guelph have discovered an easier and greener way to produce high-quality chocolate that melts in your mouth.

The team of researchers found that adding a small concentration of a saturated phospholipid from cocoa butter to melted chocolate helps it to achieve the perfect structure in a way that is less time-consuming and costly than the traditional “tempering” method.

“The structure of chocolate depends, believe it or not, on the crystals of cocoa butter, the fat that is present in chocolate,” Alejandro Marangoni, food science professor at the University of Guelph and co-author of the study, told on Tuesday. “What is remarkable is that this ingredient, added at only 0.1% concentration, can actually direct the whole formation of the right crystal form with the right properties without having to do this really complicated tempering procedure.”

Good chocolate has a glossy look, snaps predictably when broken and melts at just the right temperature. Traditionally, chocolate makers would achieve this by tempering—repeatedly heating and cooling melted chocolate to coax the fatty acid crystals in the cocoa butter into a stable form.

Master chocolatiers can perform tempering by eye, but large-scale manufacturers, faced with high demand, are unable to do so and have therefore spent a lot of time and money on automated tempering processes.

“Companies have tempering machines up to three storeys high,” Marangoni said. “We wanted to figure out if we could simplify this whole thing.”

For the study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, researchers looked to the individual components of chocolate and cocoa butter for a solution, and that’s when they made their discovery. By adding the saturated phospholipid to melted chocolate and cooling it just once to room temperature, they were able to achieve the optimal crystalline structure.

“That one [ingredient] accelerated the crystallization, so it made it go faster and made it go faster in the right form,” Marangoni said. “It was really cool to find one that could, maybe, preclude the need for doing this complicated heating and cooling and shearing process.”

It’s a finding that could help level the playing field for small- and medium-sized chocolate producers who can’t afford huge tempering machines, while also reducing their carbon footprint, according to Marangoni.

“Adding this would help people actually achieve the quality of well-made chocolate,” he said. “There’s also decreased energy costs.”

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