Liquid chocolate gushes through a pipeline, passing through an electric field as it goes, which alters its consistency. No, this isn't something from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory; researchers from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania have developed a device capable of lowering the fat content in chocolate through this exact process, known as electrorheology.
Speaking with MUNCHIES, head researcher Rongjia Tao notes that this process is very different from previous ways manufacturers have tried to develop so-called "low-fat" chocolates.
Consumer chocolate tends to have a relatively high fat content for one important reason: it's a difficult substance to manufacture. Liquid chocolate is incredibly viscous, meaning that it doesn't flow very easily, which can literally jam and junk up the works of the machinery that processes it. In order to fix this, chocolate producers utilize cocoa butter, a fat extracted from the cocoa bean, in order to make the liquid chocolate flow more easily.
Prior methods for making low fat chocolate involved additives that replaced cocoa butter in the mixture, most notably Olestra—a delightful bit of chemistry developed by Proctor & Gamble in the 1990s that became associated with one particularly nasty side effect: oily anal leakage.
However, Tao and his team of researchers appear to have been able to successfully lower the fat content of chocolate without additional additives or sacrifices to taste and consistency. As the liquid chocolate moves along, the electric field is applied to its flow direction, which reaggregates the spherical particles into short chains, reducing the viscosity of the liquid.
What that means is that the chocolate doesn't need as much added cocoa butter in order to run smoothly through the manufacturing process. That makes a big difference, nutritionally speaking. Tao says his team was able to lower the fat content of their chocolate by 10 percent through this method, but they believe they can get it up to even 20 percent.
Currently, Temple University owns the patent to this new method of chocolate-manufacturing, but they are looking to commercialize it in the near future. Tao is adamant that the new procedure would be simple for chocolate manufacturers to undertake, saying they would only need one piece of equipment to add to their facilities.
But, isn't there a significant cost involved to run your chocolate through an electric sphere?
Tao believes it's negligible, arguing that other costs in the manufacturing process may come down because of it: "This will be one additional device on the production line, so it's not difficult. In addition, cocoa butter is more expensive than cocoa solid, so if we reduce the cocoa butter and replace it with cocoa solid, the material cost for chocolate product will be a littler bit cheaper."
As for the flavor, Tao says that it should be just as good, if not better-tasting: By removing some of the cocoa butter and using more cocoa solids, it should maintain a stronger chocolate taste. That melt-in-your-mouth texture will also hopefully remain the same; Tao's team will work with experts to ensure that when they alter the chocolate's particles, they keep the same rich smoothness that consumers expect.
So, let's once again tip our hats to American ingenuity, which has created a device that will electrocute our chocolate to a state of lower fat content (or, you know, we could just put down the second or third candy bar).