A team of physicists from Temple University in Philadelphia have inadvertently stumbled upon a technique that reduces the fat content in chocolate without altering its taste.

The milk chocolate bars found in stores begin their life not as a solid, but a liquid. Melted consumer chocolate has a very high level of viscosity. This makes it incredibly difficult to manufacture as the thick chocolate can literally jam up the machines used to create it.

For this reason, manufacturers have traditionally turned to cocoa butter – a fat extracted from the cocoa bean – to help make the chocolate flow more easily. The side effect to cocoa butter, of course, is chocolate with higher fat content.

Lead researcher Rongjia Tao set about trying to figure out a way to improve the viscosity of melted chocolate during the production process. As NPR notes, Tao studies smart fluids – those whose properties can be transformed by applying an electric field.

Tao’s team found that the circular coca solids in liquid chocolate flattened when run through an electrified sieve during the manufacturing process. In a flat state, the solids flowed more easily than they did as circular balls. With more viscosity, the team realized they could significantly reduce the cocoa butter content (fat) and retain an acceptable level of viscosity with less fat.

A paper on the matter claims this technique doesn’t impact the taste of the chocolate although as the publication highlights, no data to support this claim was presented. John Hayes, a food scientist and the director of the Sensory Evaluation Center at Penn State University, isn’t entirely convinced there wouldn’t be a change in taste.

Part of what makes chocolate so unique is the melting properties of the cocoa butter, Hayes said. In theory, changing the amount of cocoa butter in chocolate would lead to a more powdery, more brittle, more stringent product, he concluded.

Tao is working with a "major chocolate company" to give the new technique a real-world test run.

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