One of the questions we are most frequently asked at the factory is why the big blocks of chocolate that we store on the shelves in our production area look so strange. Some people even look closely and point out that it looks like our chocolate is growing mold. As a matter of fact, most of you have experienced firsthand what happens to chocolate after you’ve left it in your car on a hot day. Once it cools back into a solid, you find this mess of brown and white mass that no longer resembles your scrumptious treat. This is the same thing that happens to the blocks in our factory.
So what’s happened to your chocolate bar? Should you throw it away? Is it going to taste the same?
If you’ve read Pearl’s article about the tempering process, then you already know that the cocoa butter that naturally resides in the chocolate is capable of achieving six different crystal structure formations. Form V is the most desirable because it is more stable than any other structure, gives the bar a relatively long shelf life, a smooth texture on your palate, a shiny finish, and an awesome snap when you break it. At this point, the cocoa butter is coating the cocoa solids and the sugar particles evenly. So why form V and not VI? Well, form VI isn’t actually achievable through tempering. It only occurs naturally after the bar has been stored for a long period of time and is quite brittle in texture and chalky looking on the surface. Forms I-IV aren’t a stable enough bond and that is where the magic of bloom begins…
Let’s start with the two types of bloom:
The less ideal and not-so-common type of bloom in the factory is sugar bloom. It occurs when water makes contact with the chocolate. Condensation on the surface of the chocolate causes the sugar to absorb the moisture and dissolve. When the moisture evaporates, the sugar forms larger crystals.
The second and most common type of bloom is fat bloom. At Dandelion, we bloom some of our chocolate on purpose (more on that later). Simply put, this fat bloom occurs when the crystal structure is in any phase but phase V. The best way I can describe why these polymorphic changes are happening, is to bring entropy into the conversation. Merriam Webster defines it as a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder. Universe Today explains it as the natural tendency of the universe to fall apart into disorder.
Sounds a bit dramatic, right? What it is basically saying is that things in the world are less likely to be neat and organized unless there is a certain amount of energy expended into it. We work tirelessly to coax the crystals in the cocoa butter into a desired arrangement, in order to get the best result. It really doesn’t take much for that bond to disconnect, and once it does, it spreads like crazy.
If the chocolate isn’t in perfect temper, this is exactly what happens. For a while, I had wondered which state of crystal formation our untempered chocolate ended up in after sitting for extended amounts of time. In most cases, there are random amounts of different forms that develop over time, but most of them are stage IV. Here is a nifty chart from (compoundchem.com) describing the formations:
So now that you have a better understanding of how and why bloom occurs, you know that your chocolate isn’t bad when it gets all patchy and dusty. It’s actually just in a different “state of being.” It will still taste okay, but because the cocoa butter is no longer coating the other particles evenly, your taste buds are going to be able to differentiate the change. If it were me, I’d melt it down and use it for baking. Especially in something like brownies. Yum!
At Dandelion, we’ve learned the hard way that in some cases, the more bloom, the better. We make ground chocolate as a product for wholesale partners like Four Barrel to use in their mochas and for our pastry chef, Lisa Vega, to use in our tasty café pastries. Grinding up tempered chocolate isn’t very easy with the method we use today—chopping it in a giant cutter mixer—and it usually melts before we can grind it down small enough. By “aging” the chocolate for about a week right after it comes out of the melanger, we encourage bloom and the separation of the fats from the solids. This make the blocks easier to break down and then grind into a powder using our cutter mixer.
Bloom has always been extremely fascinating to me. I love the science behind it and I’m always on the lookout for the beautiful formations and patterns in the solidified chocolate. Every once in a while, I will experiment with different temperature variations or try to create my own patterns simply by pouring the chocolate into the pans in different ways. It’s a misunderstood scientific phenomenon that is all too often viewed as a bad thing. On the contrary, it really is quite amazing. I’ve been recording the beauty of bloom for awhile now, and you’ll find a few of my favorites below. For a closer look, stop by the factory and you might catch a glimpse when we’re unloading pans.