In the past few days, various news sources have reported on a £600 million scientific grant to develop heat resistant chocolate. This seems to be in response to the rise in global temperatures, evidence of which can be found in the 46°C day that hit Sydney a fortnight ago.
These developments would also assist in opening up the market in countries such as India, where chocolate sales suffer due to constant high temperatures. Reports also state that the developments are focused on ensuring that this new chocolate will have an extended shelf life.
Now, I want to assure you that I’m supportive of anything that will enable more people to experience high quality chocolate. Chocolate for all! However, as a food historian who has worked for a chocolate company, I have some concerns and about this alleged miracle chocolate.
Chocolate with a particularly long shelf life (such as the cheap ones you can buy at Easter and Christmas) is generally inferior in quality, which has a vastly negative impact on the taste. These monstrosities are reminiscent of the pre-conching days of chocolate production, when all solid chocolates were flaky, brittle and rough surfaced, and are far more susceptible to blooming, which is the appearance of a white coating on the surface of the chocolate. If we’re going to unleash more chocolate on the world, we at least have a responsibility to ensure that it’s damn tasty!
Historically, this certainly isn’t the first attempt by both scientists and chocolatiers to create a product that could withstand high temperatures. This quest first began during WWII when the US military employed Hershey’s to create a chocolate bar to include in ration packs.
Named the D Ration Bar, this chocolate erred on the side of un-palatability. In fact, it was almost universally detested and was often discarded or traded for more appetising food from unsuspecting civilians. Troops called the bar ‘Hitler’s Secret Weapon’ due to its effect on soldiers’ intestinal tracts. Furthermore, it couldn’t be consumed by soldiers with poor dentition due to it being incredibly chewy. Even those with good dental work often found it necessary to shave slices off the bar with a knife in order to eat it.
In 1943, the US Army inquired about the possibility of creating a replacement for the D Ration Bar, one that didn’t destroy morale and taste like misery. After a short period of experimentation, the Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate Bar was added to the list of wartime production items. Reports state that it was only a marginal improvement on the original D Ration. (However, it did find some success in July of 1971 when it went to the moon with the Apollo 15 team.)
Other attempts to create heat proof chocolate over the years include the Congo Bar, which was developed in the late 1980s. It could withstand heat in excess of 60°C and was utilised during Operation Desert Storm. Apparently, the taste was still quite terrible.
So, let’s review the evidence. Despite seventy years of experimentation and advancements in both the technological and culinary worlds, attempts at heat resistant chocolate have been far less than delicious. This is hardly surprising considering the myriad of factors that need to be perfect just to create an ordinary chocolate bar. The conching process alone is incredibly delicate. No wonder it’s been so difficult to raise the melting point!
Of course, we are constantly seeing improvements in scientific and culinary experimentation. Hell, just look at the work of Heston Blumenthall! As such, it’s possible that these modern melt-proof creations will dominate the marketplace in a positive manner.
However, if this is indeed the case, I have one final thought-provoking concern regarding the social and economical impact that this could have on both the Australian public and the Arnott’s Corporation – will melt-proof chocolate mean the end of Tim Tam straws? If so, is this a sacrifice we’re really willing to make in the name of advancement?