Scientists believe they have discovered the secret power of chocolate, that unique characteristic that makes many of us feel like we’re almost addicted to it. Forget its taste or its divine smell, the texture alone can keep us hooked, according to a team of experts at the University of Leeds, in the UK.
Chocolate has a way of melting in the mouth that other similarly delicious sweets and food just don’t have. The secret, scientists say, is that there’s a fatty film coating the harder centre in chocolate which, oddly enough, our mouths can’t get enough of.
By analysing each of the steps for how the decadent sweet is made, the researchers have hopes it will lead to the development of a new generation of luxury chocolates that will have the same feel and texture but will be healthier to consume.
A moment on the lips
Fat plays a key function almost immediately when a piece of chocolate is in contact with the tongue, explains professor Anwesha Sarkar.
After that, solid cocoa particles are released and they become important in terms of tactile sensation. So fat, deeper inside the chocolate, plays a rather limited role and could be reduced without having an impact on the feel or sensation of chocolate.
“Lubrication science gives mechanistic insights into how food actually feels in the mouth. You can use that knowledge to design food with better taste, texture or health benefits.”
Sarkar is a Professor of Colloids and Surfaces in the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds.
Where’s the fat at?
“If a chocolate has 5% fat or 50% fat it will still form droplets in the mouth and that gives you the chocolate sensation. However, it is the location of the fat in the make-up of the chocolate which matters in each stage of lubrication, and that has been rarely researched.
“We are showing that the fat layer needs to be on the outer layer of the chocolate, this matters the most, followed by an effective coating of the cocoa particles by fat … these all help to make chocolate feel so good.”
Making fave treats healthy
The researchers believe the techniques used in the study could be applied to the investigation of other foodstuffs that undergo a phase change, where a substance is transformed from a solid to a liquid, such as ice cream, margarine or cheese.
Dr Siavash Soltanahmadi, from the School of Food Science and Nutrition at Leeds and the lead researcher in the study, explained, “With the understanding of the physical mechanisms that happen as people eat chocolate, we believe that a next generation of chocolate can be developed that offers the feel and sensation of high-fat chocolate yet, is a healthier choice.”
“Our research opens the possibility that manufacturers can intelligently design dark chocolate to reduce the overall fat content.
“We believe dark chocolate can be produced in a gradient-layered architecture with fat covering the surface of chocolates and particles to offer the sought-after self-indulging experience without adding too much fat inside the body of the chocolate.”
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