Chile and the chocolate factory – South American scientist on a quest for cracking cocoa

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THINGS have turned Chile at a Scots ice cream firm trying to crack the secret of perfect chocolate.

Food scientist Natalia Mansilla, from Santiago, has landed one of the best jobs in the world trying to work out the ideal size of chocolate “particles”.

These solid fragments in chocolate – which include cocoa and milk powder – are around a quarter the size of a grain of sugar.

If the particles are too big the chocolate tastes grainy. If they are too small they can cause a burning sensation at the back of the throat.

Tuesday 30th August 2016, Aberdeen, Scotland. Mackie's Ice Cream Student Placement (Photo: Ross Johnston/Newsline Media)
Natalia trying to find the ultimate chocolate

Natalia is working to identify the ideal particle size – down to a micron or thousandth of a millimetre – and how to make it consistently so that the chocolate always tastes fantastic.

Natalia, who is employed by Mackie’s at Westertown Farm, Aberdeenshire, said: “To spend the next two years finding the ultimate chocolate is a dream come true and the envy of many of my old course-mates.”

She added: “The particle size of chocolate is surprisingly important.

“Chocolate is a ‘dispersion’, which basically means that there are lots of small particles in another liquid substance.

“There’s an ideal range for those small particles, usually somewhere between 20 and 30 microns. A sugar granule is about 100 microns.

“Too high and the chocolate will be gritty and grainy, too low and the chocolate will be smooth but can leave a burning sensation in the throat.

“So, as part of my research into the perfect chocolate, I will need to take that into account.

“Having said that, getting the particles the right size can take up to 30 hours of grinding, so it’s no easy task!”

An MSc graduate of Nottingham University, Natalia, will now work closely on the project with Abertay University, Dundee.

Delicate science behind the chocolate making
Delicate science behind the chocolate making

Natalia added: “I love food and I’m fascinated by the science, the chemistry and emotion of it all. Unlike a lot of sciences, we all relate to food, as we all need it.”

Her research will be used to expand the company’s range of chocolate products, and will also help the new product development kitchen with toppings for its renowned ice cream flavours.

Dr John Grigor, Food and Drink Science Lecturer at Abertay University, said: “New product development in the food industry is not an easy task with notoriously high failure rate for new products.

“Natalia will be using the facilities at Abertay University to test a lot of the new products being developed at Mackie’s. Instrumental testing of the chocolate samples will be undertaken to help understand the structure and composition of the chocolate.”

Kirstin Mackie, development director at Mackie’s, said: “Natalia brings a real energy and we are making sure we can facilitate her new ideas with our product development.”

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