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Seeing the Light: Holographic Chocolate

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by Lynn A. Kuntz -

Every once in a while I see some technology that stops me cold and makes me mentally exclaim: “Wow!" This week—and it may take top prize for the year—is holographic chocolates that depend on nothing more than chocolate, molding technology and the properties of light.

Really, how cool is that?

My knowledge of the properties of light pretty much starts and ends with using refractometers to measure soluble solids and admiring the effects of crystals, prisms and raindrops. So instead of fumbling the physics, I’ll let Veronica Savu, CEO of Morphotonix, the Swiss company that invented the holographic chocolate technology describe it:

“The effect is light diffraction, just like you see on a CD in the sun," Savu explained. “It is due to the fact that the surface of the material (in this case chocolate) has a controlled roughness at the micrometer scale. This comes from molding the chocolate into molds with controlled roughness. This controlled roughness could be for example grooves between 1 to 10 micrometers wide. Although the grain size of chocolate is between 20 to 30 micrometers, it still molds inside these grooves pretty well, depending on the chocolate and processing. So we do not use printing, it is pure standard chocolate molding into molds which have very small features. What we do is actually making these features into the metallic mastermold form which the plastic molds are replicated… The effect is similar to the effect on the wings of a morpho butterfly, which is due not only to pigment, but to the shape of the wings at the microscale."

So I asked Savu: Why chocolate? Besides the Swiss connection and all? Not only is chocolate delicious, apparently it just happens to possess the right qualities, she said: “The processing (molding) does not involve anything new or different from the standard. It could be used on other foods, as long as the grain size lends itself to molding in such small grooves."

There you have it, the intersection of food science and physics—or what happens when engineers play with their food. And it’s a fine example of the complexity that is food science.

Then she posed a question to me—what other foods could work given those parameters? She suggested tofu, I thought perhaps cheese or a molded gelatin or some other sort of hydrocolloid. Other types of candy, maybe some sort of confectionery flake?  An edible film that might replace those annoying stickers on fresh product? (Remember patent lawyers; you heard it here first.) Frozen foods would probably work, but melt too quickly to be practical. I hear open innovation is quite the thing these days. So here’s a puzzle for all the food scientists that deal with the microstructure of foods: What foods might fit the particle size constraints, mold cleanly and maintain the proper shape?

Not that I’m geeking out or anything…but seriously, how cool is this?

   -Lynn A. Kuntz

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