Chemistry provides secret ingredient in love, chocolate
Celebrations like Valentine’s Day, which was celebrated last Friday, highlight the importance of chemistry. The chemistry between two people that leads to a date, to blushing cheeks when lovers brush hands for the first time, to the shy smiles on their faces after they kiss at the end of the night.
Chemistry is also responsible for one of the hallmarks of Valentine’s Day: chocolate. Rick Ludescher, professor in the Department of Food Science, said chocolate is just a tasty, crystalline fat.
Chocolate is a remarkable structure, Ludescher said. It is the only edible fat that is solid at room temperature but liquid at body temperature.
“It melts in your mouth, but not in the cupboard,” he said.
Chocolate is a crystal, like ice, so understanding how crystals form is essential in making chocolate, Ludescher said. In making candies like those sold on Valentine’s Day, it is important to make sure chocolate retains the taste and consistency of cocoa while staying solid and shareable.
The result is a molecule that has a universal appeal, he said. Other factors from price, to branding to convenience add variety to the kind of chocolate consumers can buy.
Sonica Patel, a School of Engineering junior, purchased her Valentine’s Day chocolate from Thomas Sweet Ice Cream and Chocolate on Easton Avenue. She said small businesses like Thomas Sweet provide customers with better quality chocolates than brand names.
“Their chocolate is a lot fresher than store brand chocolates,” she said.
Michael Schnur, a Rutgers alumnus and co-owner of the shop, said that on top of freshness, the chocolate is also incredibly smooth.
Schnur and his wife and co-owner, Jennifer Schnur, do not think about the chemistry of the chocolate when making their products, but it does play a role in their process.
The Schnurs put all their products through a delicate tempering process to achieve the right texture, he said. Chocolate’s structure makes it versatile, and the texture in chocolate has a purpose.
During the tempering process, Schnur said he melts and cools his chocolate at a specific temperature to ensure the fat molecules dry in a very specific way. This dried form is the smooth chocolate Thomas Sweet is known for.
“The procedure is actually simple,” Schnur said. “It’s just a bit of experimentation. You have to make it, and if you have to mess it up you make it again and make it better.”