Like Water for Chocolate?

Artisan chocolate, made by hand, with exacting attention to the cacao bean is what motivates this blog. At the same time, it’s fascinating to look at how far science and industrial production can drive the frontiers of chocolate. Chocolate making is a gigantic industry, and like any gigantic industry, there are millions of dollars poured into advanced research and development, all with the hope of gaining some competitive edge.

Side Note: For a peek into how brutal the candy industry is at the top levels, check out Joel Glenn Brenner’s “The Emperors of Chocolate“, which details the rivalry between Hershey’s and Mars. It’s a 35 year old slugfest that makes Coke vs. Pepsi look like 3rd graders squabbling in a playground. Even more remarkably, Mars and Hershey’s used to work together closely, with Hershey’s supplying raw chocolate to Mars. As a side effect, while the first M in M&M’s stands for Mars, the second stands for Murrie, the president of Hershey’s at the time!

Patent 7,186,425, just issued on March 7th, shows how this kind of research can turn centuries of technique upside down. In traditional chocolate making, rule #1 is “water is the enemy.” Even a small amount of moisture in chocolate can render it lumpy, granular, and can make it sieze up, destroying machinery. Almost every step of the conventional chocolate making process is about driving out moisture, and the end product has less than 1% water. This patent shows how, paradoxially, to make chocolate that contains up to 30% water! The motivation is to create a lower calorie chocolate that can also contain nutrients that are only water soluble. The trick seems to be to premake chocolate, then very gently mix in a suspension of water in oil (using lecithin or PGPR to emulsify.) The mixture keeps the water from forming a continuous phase, preventing it from affecting the cocoa fat matrix and screwing up the chocolate. Various other inventors have proposed processes for this trick, but none have gotten to this level of water content.

According to the patent, with proper handling through the conching process, and careful tempering, this watery chocolate will form bars with classic chocolate texture that will not bloom for a long time. The primary inventor of this process is S.T. Beckett, the author of the encyclopedic “Industrial Chocolate: Manufacture and Use” and the introductory “Science of Chocolate.”

I don’t think I’ll be heading to the store for any watery chocolate anytime soon, but I have to admire the pure mad scientist aspect of this technique!

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