Science and Cooking: Explorations of Chocolate Texture

Cocoa beans ready for processing. (Credit: Cassie Martin)

Cocoa beans ready for processing. (Credit: Cassie Martin)

Molecular gastronomy has the potential to give people with food allergies a mouthful of chocolate without the medical consequences of eating such a traditionally unhealthy treat.

Master Chocolatiers Enric Rovira and Ingrid Farré of Barcelona, Spain, transformed into scientists as they explored how crystal formation can be used to engineer chocolate to retain its texture while excluding potential allergens like gluten, eggs, and milk from desserts.

“It’s about knowing there are lots of people with food allergies. What we try to do is recreate these traditional recipes without those ingredients,” said Farré of the Alícia Foundation, an organization dedicated to studying the science behind pastry-making.

“Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science” is a Harvard University public lecture series focused on the science of food. Monday night’s presentation was entitled Elasticity: Explorations of Chocolate Texture.

Cocoa contains six different kinds of crystals, each with a unique melting temperature. The crystal composition of chocolate affects its elasticity and texture. In a technique known as tempering, “you can force the chocolate to grow in the crystal formation that you want; it has to do with taking advantage of the melting temperatures” said David A. Weitz, host of the series. By tempering the chocolate in a specific way, Rovira and Farré were able to compensate for the texture that was lost from the exclusion of certain ingredients.

Without tempering, undesirable crystals make the chocolate whitish in color with a sandy texture and no shine. “That’s what happens if you get a chocolate bar in August, leave it in your car all day, and then put it in your fridge,” said Rovira.

The smell of chocolate permeated the air of the auditorium and the audience was humming with excitement as volunteers passed out samples. The small box of mysterious chocolates yielded surprisingly spicy, savory, and fruity flavors.

Creation of Master Chocolatier Enric Rovira.

Planetary Chocolates: Creation of Master Chocolatier Enric Rovira. (Courtesy of chocolatierra.com)

Upbeat jazz music played in the background as Rovira discussed the creative side of his business. One of his creative lines features chocolates shaped like the planets and allows consumers to “pretend to eat the universe.”

Meanwhile, Farré remained in the background preparing a cooking demonstration. Captivating an audience of 350 people, she used only water, eggs, tempered chocolate, flour, and yeast, to create a sponge cake that was gluten-free and quick to make. Within minutes, a “very spongy sponge cake” according to Rovira, emerged from the microwave. Demonstrating the texture, he punched the cake without leaving a mark. When asked how it tasted, one audience member replied it was “perfection.”

Eniko Sajti, a Boston pediatrician, attended the event with friends. “I loved the way he incorporated science so easily with his practical knowledge,” she said of Rovira.

During the question and answer portion near the end of the talk, a young woman in the audience asked how Rovira stays so skinny. His reply, “Chocolate is good for you!”

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