Chocolate used to be gritty until a special process turned it smooth

Melted pieces of dark chocolate bar in splash texture

We now associate chocolate with creamy smoothness (iStockphoto)

Chocolate used to have a gritty texture until chocolatiers hit on a way to turn it smooth.

Now, over a hundred years later, scientists are looking at the physical properties behind the process in order to better understand it.

The physics behind what makes chocolate so smooth has been revealed by researchers studying the 140-year-old mixing technique.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh studied conching, which involves mixing ingredients for several hours.

Their analysis, which involved measuring the density of mixtures and how they flow at various stages of the process, suggests conching may alter the physical properties of the microscopic sugar crystals and other granular ingredients of chocolate.

Before the invention of the conching process, which was developed by Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt in 1879, chocolate had a gritty texture.

Eating chocolate

The process, called conching, was invented in 1879 (iStockphoto)

This was because the ingredients form rough, irregular clumps that do not flow smoothly when mixed with cocoa butter using other methods, the researchers said.

The new research reveals conching produces smooth molten chocolate by breaking down lumps of ingredients into finer grains and reducing friction between particles.

It is hoped the findings may hold the key to producing confectionery with a lower fat content, and could help make chocolate manufacturing more energy efficient.

Professor Wilson Poon, of the university’s school of physics and astronomy, who led the study, said: ‘We hope our work can help reduce the amount of energy used in the conching process and lead to greener manufacturing of the world’s most popular confectionery product.’

Belgian Chocolate Ices 020

Studying chocolate reveals the physics of how complex mixtures flow together (Getty Images/Cultura RF)

‘By studying chocolate making, we have been able to gain new insights into the fundamental physics of how complex mixtures flow.

‘This is a great example of how physics can build bridges between disciplines and sectors.’

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, involved a collaboration with researchers from New York University.

The work in Edinburgh was funded by Mars Chocolate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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