Interesting article in Science: (link fixed; apologies)
With Hallowe’en upon us, youngsters and adults alike will enjoy a night of regret-free chocolate bingeing. But how much do you really know about the sweet substance? If you’re Stefan Bernhard, you can safely say you’ve made a lifetime study of the elixir of the gods.
At a recent meeting of the Experimental Cuisine Collective(ECC) at New York University, Bernhard, professor of chemistry at Princeton, led a group of scholars, scientists, chefs, chocolatiers, food historians, journalists, performance artists, and foodies through the intricacies of chocolate production. He covered everything from chocolate’s unique chemical properties to the ways in which those properties affect its manufacture.
Bernhard spent three teenage years as an intern at Suchard-Tobler in Bern, Switzerland and has never lost his interest in chocolate. It came in handy when he was asked to teach a freshman seminar at Princeton which he titled The Chemistry of Chocolate. It was, he says, a good way to introduce liberal arts students to science. He gave the ECC a distillation of that semester’s course.
The key to chocolate’s taste is an alkaloid called theobromine (theobromine translates as food of the gods, which is what the Aztecs believed it to be). Theobromine contains some fifty molecules that interact to influence tongue-bound taste receptors. Bernhard put up a slide showing all fifty molecules. Pointing to one of them – described as having a buttery, popcorn-like taste – he said, “When you go to the movies and order buttered popcorn, you think you’re getting butter but you’re not, you’re getting some kind of oil infused with this molecule.” Grinning he added, “Which is why chemists should be kept away from our food.”
Chocolate has some similarities to coffee; …