For most of us, even one bite of chocolate is enough to send our taste buds into ecstasy. Now, scientists have concocted a process to make these dark, dulcet morsels look as decadent as they taste.
Switzerland-based company Morphotonix has given traditional Swiss chocolate-making a colorful twist: It's devised a method to imprint shiny holograms onto the sweet surfaces — sans harmful additives. Which means when you tilt the goodies from side to side, rainbow stars and swirly patterns on the chocolate's surface dance and shimmer in the light.
Typically, holograms are laser-imprinted onto a flat, metallic surface such as aluminum; the rainbow-colored hologram appears when light hits the surface at a certain angle (Think of the security sticker on the back of your credit card). But aluminum-drenched chocolate doesn't sound very appetizing, so confectioners pour the chocolate into a mold etched with a patchwork of minuscule bumps, or microstructures, that bend light at specific angles — embedding a hologram directly onto its surface.
Morphotonix CEO Veronica Savu got the idea as a postdoctoral researcher in materials science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. She and two other researchers were brainstorming ideas for an entrepreneurial challenge at a scientific conference in 2012. "We had to come up with an out-of-the-box idea, and we came up with holographic chocolate," Savu said.
Others before Savu had tried and failed to emboss microstructures onto chocolate like they would onto metallic surfaces. So, instead, Savu and her teammates decided to mold the chocolate's surface into an array of microstructures.
"We took the approach of doing what people know how to do with chocolate — mold it," she said. They etched microstructures into a metal master mold, which they then used to make the plastic molds for shaping the chocolate.
While perfecting the method in Savu's kitchen, they realized it doesn't work for all types of chocolate. A square of chocolate is composed of millions of tiny grains, and the size of those grains varies depending on the type of chocolate. Only certain sizes will perfectly fill the microstructure molds. As the chocolate hardens in the mold, its fat crystallizes, and the crystals also need to be just the right size.
The visual effect also depends on the type of chocolate. White chocolate reflects light more, resulting in a shinier surface, but dark chocolate provides a more striking backdrop for the rainbow of colors.
Once they got their method right, Savu launched Morphotonix in 2012. Today, they're working with a German chocolate mold manufacturer to take their technology to market. Their microstructure molds could appear on store shelves around the world — for both chocolate factories and amateur chocolatiers — sometime in the next year.
Get ready for chocolate that's as much a treat for your eyes as it is for your mouth.
Melissa Pandika is a lab rat-turned-journalist with eye to all things science, medicine and more. Like? Distance running, snails, late-night Korean BBQ + R&B slow jams.