Have you ever tried to break a piece of chocolate in half only to have it crumble instead of snap (e.g. with those Israeli Mekupelet chocolate sticks)? Apparently there’s a cool scientific reason for this.
I was listening to an interview with Seth Godin today on the Tim Ferris Experiment, and for a few minutes he was speaking about his new obsession with chocolate. After a glowing review of these guys which gave me a serious chocolate craving (which I have unfortunately yet to satisfy), he mentioned a part of the chocolate making process called tempering. I had previously only thought of the word in either metallurgical or metaphorical contexts and so was instantly curious.
Seth described it as a process that “lines up all of the molecules in the chocolate in one direction,” allowing good chocolate to snap instead of crumble when breaking and giving a bit of a sheen to the surface. Chocolate and esoteric science being two of my most favorite things in this world, I couldn’t just leave it at that.
It turns out that cocoa butter molecules can form six different types of crystalline structures. Each one has a different melting point and slightly different physical properties, the most desirable of the bunch being form V. Chocolate is tempered by cooling and reheating to very precise temperatures so as to eliminate all of the crystals with lower melting points leaving only the V’s, which then work as seed crystals for the rest of the chocolate. Once it has fully cooled, a properly tempered bar of chocolate is really a crystalline structure just like a precious gem. But way more delicious.
Is this knowledge useful? Probably not for most people. But I’ll definitely be thinking of little chocolate gemstones and snowflakes next time I snap a bar.
I didn’t want to bore you with the more elaborate details, but for anyone whose curiosity was really piqued here is a nice article that gets into more specifics about how the process is carried out.
P.S. – Why am I writing about random chocolate facts when I’m supposed to be showing all sorts of cool Thailand pictures? Because those posts will be way longer and I’m a bit busy being in said pictures 🙂