(NC)—Ever wonder why those delicious little chocolates hardly ever melt in your hand? Pop them in your mouth, and they transform into soft, gooey liquid. Here's the secret…
The way chocolate is manufactured has changed considerably. Originally, chocolate was made with cocoa butter, derived from cocoa beans. Cocoa butter naturally melts at the temperature in your mouth: 37ºC. This is about as hot as a tropical jungle! Over time, the price of cocoa butter escalated, and its supply became somewhat unstable. As a result, chocolate manufacturers turned to cocoa butter alternatives like those derived from coconut oil, palm oil, and shea oil – which comes from the Shea-Karite tree, native to tropical Africa.
However, these butters don't possess the same melting point as cocoa butter. A precise science, called "hydrogenation", is required to alter them. Hydrogenation is the process of inserting hydrogen gas into hot oil, at scalding temperatures between 120ºC and 210ºC. Upon completion, the substitute butters have new solidifying and melting points.
Hydrogen is a versatile element that appears as a gas, liquid or solid. Estimated to make up more than 75% of all mass, it is the most abundant element in the universe. Discovered in 1766 by Henry Cavendish, hydrogen is even found in the stars. This element is the secret behind your chocolate's melting properties.
However, research now indicates that hydrogenated oils produce "trans fats" that interfere with cellular function and prevent our bodies from acquiring essential fatty acids that are important for our health. Consuming hydrogenated oils can lead to obesity, clogged arteries and other diseases.
But hydrogen isn't all bad. It can be combined with other molecules to produce plastics, and is used to polish glass. An unlimited, renewable resource, hydrogen is also an environmentally friendly energy alternative. It holds the promise of solving air pollution problems, reducing Canada's dependence on foreign oil, and eliminating oil spills.
Air Liquide, the global leader in industrial gases, explores hydrogen's energy uses. The company is partnering with automobile manufacturers to develop hydrogen-powered cars that emit clean water rather than harmful pollutants. Other benefits of hydrogen cars are: no mechanical parts (such as a transmission), no need for lubricating oils, and easier maintenance. It is estimated that hydrogen cars won't hit the road for another decade, although the world's first hydrogen bus has already conducted field tests in Germany.
- News Canada
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