Posts Tagged Chocolate

Chocolate Research Has Sweet Rewards

BY SUSAN BUBAK
FRIDAY, AUGUST 16, 2013

It’s a chocolate lover’s nightmare: chocolate that melts before you get a chance to enjoy it. So what’s the solution to this sticky situation? Researchers in University of Guelph’s Department of Food Science are developing heat-resistant chocolate.

In hot climates, it’s especially difficult to keep chocolate from melting during transportation. “India is the big market that the chocolate companies are going after right now,” says Terri Stortz, a PhD student in food science working with Prof. Alejandro Marangoni.

Regular chocolate melts at 34 C. “What we’re aiming for with heat-resistant chocolate is for it to hold its shape or resist deformation at 40 C,” says Stortz. “But the problem is that you still want the fat to melt at 34 C, because body temperature is 37 C. That’s why chocolate is so desirable – and that’s why people like it – because it melts in your mouth.”

Increasing the melting point of the fat can result in chocolate with a waxy texture. To overcome this, researchers are developing a “secondary structure” that would allow the fat to melt while keeping the chocolate together.

“There aren’t any heat-resistant chocolates on the market right now,” says Stortz. The product being developed in the lab would probably cost slightly more than those currently on the market, she says, because of an additive that helps the chocolate keep its shape. That ingredient is ethyl cellulose. A chemical process replaces some of the hydroxyl groups in cellulose with ethyl groups to make it oil soluble. Ethyl cellulose dissolves in oil at high temperatures; when it cools down, it creates a gel that behaves like solid fat.

The ethyl cellulose interacts with the non-fat solids in chocolate, which include 50 per cent sugar and 20 per cent cocoa solids and milk proteins. The remaining 30 per cent is fat. “The ethyl cellulose is sort of a glue between the solid particles and it creates this network within the chocolate that physically traps the fat,” says Stortz. Although the solids wouldn’t melt at body temperature, she adds, they would dissolve when they came into contact with saliva, because of their solubility in water.

How does heat-resistant chocolate taste? “It tastes a little bit different,” she admits, but most consumers probably wouldn’t notice. Ethyl cellulose typically lacks flavour but it depends on how it’s manufactured. Chocolate can be modified in many ways, she adds, so the slight change in flavour can easily be addressed in the lab.

As for baking applications, she doesn’t recommend using heat-resistant chocolate in recipes that require melted chocolate. “I wouldn’t make a fondue out of it.”

Stortz received two grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. She began working in Marangoni’s lab as a co-op student in her undergrad and went directly into the PhD program. “He’s a really interesting professor to learn from,” she says. “He’s very successful in what he’s done and hard-working.”

Stortz has studied chocolate for more than four years, but her appetite for it started long before she joined the lab, when she helped her mother make homemade chocolates. “I always grew up around chocolate.”

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Turning Japanese

I have just returned from two fantastic weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun. This being my first trip I was struck by the country’s unique ability to embrace both the old and the new. The people were all incredibly friendly, polite, law abiding and helpful. Compared with Australia, Japanese society seemed very structured with a long list of social conventions that regulate people’s daily lives. While this may appear restrictive once I had deciphered the system I found knowing what was expected in various situations to be oddly relaxing. It was probably just my German background enjoying the predictability of it all. The old joke about why the German crossed the road (The little man is green now. It’s allowed) is equally applicable to the Japanese. People formed orderly queues on railway platforms to board the trains, the doors of which always lined up with the carriage numbers marked on the ground. The trains were insanely punctual and reliable. People did not eat in public. Shoes were removed before entering temples, restaurants, homes, castles and sumo rings, which is a very common sense way of not tracking dirt everywhere. If you do decide to visit Japan do not, under any circumstances, wear a pair of lace up hiking boots.

Given that the majority of Japanese claim no personal religion they have presumably decided on their social conventions all by themselves, producing a set of guidelines that work for them. Considering their extremely low crime rate, compared with many devoutly religious countries, it certainly seems to be working for them. Japan does, however, have two major religions and, interestingly, most people profess to follow both.

Shintoism is Japan’s own home grown religion. It has no major prophet and no all-consuming deity. In fact there are eight million deities or spirits as all animate and inanimate objects contain a kami or spiritual essence. It is not necessary to swear allegiance and forsake all others to be Shinto. Anyone who practices Shinto rituals is counted as belonging to the religion. The Japanese have also imported Buddhism and see no contradiction in following both this religion and Shintoism, picking the best bits from each. It is refreshing to see religion working for the people instead of the other way round. Most people celebrate birth events according to the Shinto way but use Buddhist rituals for funeral arrangements. According to what one Japanese person told me the Shinto afterlife is not as appealing as the Buddhist nirvana. There are no Shinto cemeteries. Cremation is a Buddhist ritual. I was told that Shintoists believe the spirit returns to the earth and bodies were either thrown in the river or left on a hillside, presumably for scavengers to dispose of. I can feel myself becoming more Shinto all the time.

As a member of one of the world’s fattest countries it struck me how few overweight Japanese there are. This should come as no surprise as the Japanese consume virtually no bread products and no chocolate. In fact almost none of the places we ate at featured a dessert menu. Dairy products were also all but absent from the diet, which is probably sensible too as we appear to be the only species that drinks the milk of another well into adulthood (apart from my wife’s border collie who used to zip into the milking shed of any farm she visited, in order to clean up the spilled milk). Foods are minimally processed with a strong emphasis on raw foods including fish. I did enjoy my sashimi but I will be worming myself as soon as I get the chance. We cooked many of our restaurant meals ourselves much to my son’s indignation who felt that, as we were having a night out, the least the restaurant staff could do was to cook it for us. We made our own sukiyaki, which featured melt in the mouth Hida beef, that I’m sure was not particularly healthy given the reason for the meat’s flavour and tenderness was its intense marbling. We also concocted our own chankonabe, a stew containing seafood, chicken, vegetables, rice and egg designed to bulk up the sumos, and our own okonomiyaki, a type of savoury pancake filled with whatever takes your fancy. It was also good to see the Japanese making the most of local produce consuming a wide variety of unrecognisable mountain vegetables, as they called them. I found the fern to be quite tasty but I don’t think I will miss the lotus root. Our diet does not seem to be nearly as varied as theirs. All of this no doubt contributes to the fact that the Japanese now have the highest life expectancy in the world.

And the best part? Tips are neither given nor expected. Politeness and good service are an expected part of the culture.

Dr. F. Bunny

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