Guest Author: Lisa Herrmann, science writer, Arizona SciTech
Nationally the confectionary industry spends over 2.3 billion dollars a year transporting and processing 1.9 billion pounds of cocoa beans from Central and South America to make the billions of chocolate treats exchanged throughout our US economy. We love our chocolate. But scientists debate the root of that love.
The physics and chemistry of cocoa beans and cocoa products (also known as cacao, but not to be confused with coca!) are very complex. Thus, chocolate varies significantly based on the growth environment of its cocoa and the processing received. But all chocolate contains the alkaloids theobromine, phenethylamine and caffeine. These have physiological effects on the body, such as alertness. Theobromine is also a vasodilator and is linked to serotonin levels in the brain, which is associated with feelings of love.
Chocolatiers however, believe the love of chocolate comes from the care with which they transform basic cocoa products into candy. This process starts with blending, in varying amounts, the sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa liquor and any additional flavorings or milk products that result in variations such as dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate. The texture is also heavily influenced by the conching process which produces cocoa and sugar particles smaller than the tongue can detect, hence the smooth feel in the mouth. Tempering chocolate is a heat treatment method performed on chocolate involving heating and cooling the chocolate to result in shininess and the ‘snap’, or way it breaks. A chocolatier must know how to take chocolate through all of these processes to produce the characteristics that will induce our desire for the product.
So is it the the obromine’s effect on our brain, or it just the fact that it tastes to good? Conduct your own research at the 20th Annual Glendale Chocolate Affair, Friday, Jan. 30 and Saturday, Jan. 31. The Arizona SciTech Festival will be hosting its own area focused on the ‘Science of Chocolate,’ investigating all the complexities of our love affair with this marvelous substance. Event hours are Friday noon – 10 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.- 10 p.m. The event is located in the heart of Historic Downtown Glendale, in Murphy Park, located at 58th and Glendale avenues.