Pass the Chocolate
Can you turn a craving for chocolate into a reason for science exploration? You bet!
As "The Sweet Science of Chocolate" video from KQED QUEST shows, there is a lot of science that goes into the production of chocolate. It all begins with the growing of the cocoa tree and the fermentation of cocoa beans. Cocoa trees yield a surprisingly small number of beans per tree per year. A single tree produces enough beans to make roughly 2 pounds of chocolate, which means that a successful chocolate business needs to produce a great product with a low margin of error. The key to success may lie, in part, in understanding the science of chocolate and in applying the engineering design process to come up with solutions and innovations that can streamline and resolve production issues and make an even better product.
There are many ways you can satisfy your chocolate cravings while you explore chemistry and kitchen science. In addition to the critical fermentation stage, chocolatiers also deal with fundamental scientific principles like pH levels and crystallization at various stages of production.
One way to get started (dip a toe in the chocolate?) is to experiment with the science of "tempering" chocolate. Tempering is a critical step in making chocolate and can be the make-or-break step in baking with chocolate or making certain kinds of candies. The Temper, Temper, Temper! The Science of Tempering Chocolate* offers suggestions for developing a "tempering" science project. There is sure to be plenty of taste-testing along the way, so gather some friends to help you savor the sweet rewards of scientific inquiry!
Taking it Further
And if you are interested in chocolate at the level of the cocoa crop, you might dig deeper into the sequencing of the cocoa genome. The Theobroma cacao Matina 1-6 genome sequence was released last year in an effort to help scientists find ways to grow hardier trees and trees more resistant to environmental, fungal, and pest-related risks. While you nibble on your favorite chunk o' chocolate, you might just find a genomics project that you'd enjoy.
In the News
For more information about threats facing cocoa crops, check these recent headlines: