How Chocolate Might Save The Planet

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Robert Krulwich has been called “the most inventive network reporter in television” by TV Guide. Krulwich, a Science Correspondent for NPR , gives his take on the world of chocolate and how it might just save the planet.

“When you unwrap it, break off a piece and stick it in your mouth, it doesn’t remind you of the pyramids, a suspension bridge or a skyscraper; but chocolate, says materials scientist Mark Miodownik, “is one of our greatest engineering creations.”

True, it begins with a cocoa bean plucked from a tree. But no one would eat a raw cocoa bean. “It tastes revolting,” Miodownik says in his new book, Stuff Matters.

But cut it, leave it, roast it, tinker with it for a couple of centuries (and add sugar) …

… and cocoa beans can be totally transformed. Chocolate now melts in our mouths, floods our senses with flavor and might — just might —Miodownik suggests, get us to have fewer babies (and thereby save the planet). Let’s start with the bean.

Chocolate’s Secret

Chocolate bars have a circus trick, an “Oh, my” moment: They’re solid when you unwrap them. They make a satisfying snap when you break off a piece. But then, when you put that piece into your mouth, when it’s resting on your tongue, it turns liquid. A chocolate bar, Miodownik says, jumps states so quickly, it is, in effect, a paradox: “a solid drink … made possible by engineering.”

The secret ingredient is cocoa butter, stored in the form of large molecules called triglycerides that come with three (thus the “tri”) prongs. Inside the chocolate these fat molecules are jammed together, but sensitive to temperature.”

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