A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Chocolat à la particle accelerator

02/14/11

If your sweetheart gave you chocolate this Valentine’s Day, you have a particle accelerator to thank for its scrumptious taste.

Food scientists used an accelerator-based light source to determine how to avoid the white powder than can form on chocolate known as fat bloom.

Food scientists used an accelerator-based light source to determine how to avoid the white powder than can form on chocolate. (Image courtesy of ESRF)

Using the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, ESRF, in Grenoble, France, scientists from the University of Amsterdam got a close-up view of the molecular structure of chocolate. Their research allowed candy manufacturers to develop new techniques that could avoid the dreaded “fat bloom” -  the white powder that can form on the outside of chocolate.

A basic chocolate recipe consists of roughly one-third cocoa butter, a fat that crystalizes easily. How the butter crystalizes determines the quality of the chocolate. In order to obtain the ideal crystal form, chocolate manufacturers repeatedly heat the butter to a specific temperature and then cool it down. If the chocolate doesn’t reach its ideal crystal state, it will develop the “fat bloom.”

Until recently, food scientists didn’t know what the cocoa crystals looked like and thus didn’t know how to avoid the bloom. But with the help of the accelerator-based light source, scientists were able to use a focused beam of light to see the crystal structure of cocoa butter for the first time. The data helped food scientists understand the melting properties of cocoa butter and therefore how to control the production process. The Dutch machine manufacturer, Duyvis Wiener, used the research to patent a new technology in 2004 for making chocolate without the bloom.

So as you thank your sweetheart today, send some love to particle accelerators too.

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