Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Cocoa, along with Coffee and Tea forms the troika of stimulant beverages and Caffeine is the common component that provides the typical stimulant properties attributed to these beverage crops. Interestingly each one of these has different usage form evolved over centuries with innovative variations from time to time. While coffee and tea are predominantly used for making drinks with or without milk, cocoa is mostly processed into chocolate products which enjoy a very high acceptability among children and adults alike. There are a few products incorporating cocoa solids made by the industry such as chocolate confectionery, ice cream, chocolate milk, baked goods and many others which are liked by the consumers willing to pay premium prices. By far the most accepted product from cocoa is a variety of chocolates catering to different category of consumers,

Cocoa pods produced by the plant contain a cluster of beans embedded in a slimy matrix and the processing of the ripe pods involves breaking of the pods and exposing the beans to fermentation to get the clean seed. While the matrix breaks down and runs off, the beans are mostly sun dried to a low moisture content for long term storage, lest they are spoiled by fungal growth at higher moisture contents. The typical flavor associated with cocoa is developed during the fermentation stage due to action of break down products like acetic acid, ethanol and other organic substances on the bean besides making it mellower. The conventional  chocolate making process involves roasting of the dry beans under optimum conditions and shelling them to obtain nibs which are in grit form for further processing. Grinding the nibs, conching and tempering are the core operations that distinguish good chocolate from low quality ones. With modern developments, chocolate making has become a machine intensive process leaving very little role to any skilled artisans who were ruling the roost once.

Pure chocolate is 100% cocoa solids without addition of any ingredients and there are many derived products from this base  material such as sweetened chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate. The chocolate liquor obtained after conching is a semi liquid product at temperatures beyond 37C and sets into a hard mass as the temperature is lowered. Refined cocoa mass as it is called comes in brittle blocks that can be stored for use in various value added consumer products. Sweetened chocolate and milk chocolate are made from the cocoa mass by adding ingredients like sugar, milk powder etc. White chocolate is a misnomer for a product which does not contain any cocoa solids but based on cocoa butter only. Generally chocolates are processed to give the final product a melting characteristics that will ensure that it melts at body temperature when eaten viz 37C. One of the biggest problems associated with general types of chocolates is that the product becomes soft and messy during handling in tropical countries where the day time temperatures can be as high as 45C during summer season. Is it not possible that this drawback can be overcome through technological innovations? 

If recent reports emanating from the UK are to be believed such a feat has been accomplished by one of the major chocolate brands and products made are stable, firm and can be handled without softening and slushy at temperatures up to 42C. According to the claim made by the company its product called "melt-resistant" or "temperature-tolerant"remains solid even after exposure to temperature as high as 40C for as long as three hours unlike its conventional counterpart vulnerable to melting at 33C. Many tropical countries in Asia, Africa and South America can be expected to welcome such a development as the median day time temperatures during most part of the year is in the range of 33-45C. Food scientists know that use of high melting fat (hydrogenated or fractionated liquid oils) in chocolate making in place of cocoa butter can achieve hardness but such products cannot be legally called chocolates under international food laws and regulations.

The new technology now being touted appears to have manipulated the tempering conditions of conched cocoa mass to obtain higher content of type V cocoa butter crystals to modify the melting characteristics appropriately. Traditionally the cocoa mass is heated to 45C to melt all the five crystal forms of the polymorphous cocoa butter, following by controlled cooling to 27C to recover the type 1V and type V crystals which have higher melting temperature properties. Agitation and seeding with small sized crystals further enrich the mass with the smallest sized crystals. What ever details are available on the new technology now being cited for making melt resistant chocolates indicate that .the core of the process is reducing the size of sugar as well as cocoa butter crystals and minimize the extent of fat that coats the sugar particles. How this happens is not very clear though the key to increased melting temperature lies in reducing the size of the cocoa butter crystals to get highest levels of type V crystals.    

High melting chocolate products can become a hit every where in the world but it should not compromise with the crisp and snappy texture of typical chocolate bars. Innovation is a never ending endeavor and efforts must continue to achieve chocolate products which are not affected by wide variations in temperatures encountered in market places. While looking out for melt resistant products, care has to be taken that these products do not become like rocks at lower temperatures and freezing weathers encountered during winter in many countries. There is nothing like a chocolate product which does not need refrigeration or air conditioning for distribution and storage and that should be the ultimate goal of chocolate technologists.


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