A group of physicists has figured out a way to make chocolates healthier. In a new study, Rongjia Tao of Temple University and colleagues said that they can reduce the fat content of chocolate using electric currents.
Before they're individually wrapped in foils, chocolates start out as liquid that flow through factory pipes.
Cocoa butter, which typically makes up to 40 percent of a chocolate bar's volume, makes the liquid chocolate flow smoothly. Cocoa butter, however, also gives chocolates high fat content.
Circular cocoa solids in liquid chocolate can pack together and get jammed. The fat and oil of the cocoa butter help keep the chocolate moving. The researchers managed to find a way to improve the flow of liquid chocolate through factory pipes without the need to add extra cocoa butter.
The process, which involves applying electricity to chocolate, can slash between 10 to 20 percent of fat in it.
The researchers inserted an electrified sieve into liquid chocolate, which gives electric shocks to the cocoa particles that pass through. The process flattens the cocoa solids and cause them to behave like little bar magnets that line themselves up in a chainlike formation that provides more room for the chocolate to flow sans the need to add more cocoa butter.
In their study, which was published in PNAS on June 20, the researchers said that the process could pave the way for a new class of healthier and tastier chocolate.
Chocolate manufacturers that have attempted to reduce the fat in their chocolate only managed to reduce the fat content to about 36 percent, but the new method allows for reducing fat content down to 28 percent.
"Here we show that, by applying an electric field to liquid chocolate in the flow direction, we aggregate the suspended particles into prolate spheroids," the researchers wrote. "This microstructure change reduces the viscosity in the flow direction and enables us to reduce the fat level by 10 to 20 percent."
Although the process may help make chocolates healthier by reducing their fat content, some food experts are skeptical when it comes to the idea of the process leading to tastier chocolate. The study did not provide data that can support improved flavor. For some, the cocoa butter is also what makes the chocolate a delectable treat.
"Part of what makes chocolate so unique is the melting properties of the cocoa butter," said Penn State University food scientist John Hayes. "Less butter would mean more powdery, more brittle, more stringent."