West Control Solutions and the Chocolate Factory

Posted by Chloe Garrett-Dyke in News on 02 April 2015

Chocolate heaven since 1847

Have you ever tried to make your own chocolate? No? Me neither. It is, in fact, an interesting process – one that’s been continuously developing since Fry & Co manufactured the first chocolate bar in 1847 (although chocolate as a drink has been around for more than a millennia). It starts with cocoa nibs – beans with their shells removed – and these are ground to liquefy the cocoa butter. The nibs produce chocolate liquor, which is pressed to extract cocoa butter. Additional ingredients, such as milk, may be added – and then it’s time for conching. Rollers or paddles continuously knead the chocolate liquor and its ingredients over many hours to develop its smoothness and flavour.

Inevitably, it’s not that simple. There’s more than one way of conching chocolate: the Swiss and Belgians do it differently producing quite different tastes and textures in the process.

The lowdown on tempering

And then, it’s time for tempering – and this is the point at which temperature is critical. Chocolate has to be tempered if you want it to set and don’t want it to be crumbly or an unpleasant dull colour. Tempering is the process of heating and cooling chocolate to a series of precisely defined temperatures and working it in order to maximize its chances of forming a tight, stable structure. The secret is all about temperature control, and chocolatiers are particularly adept at managing this.

Nothing beats Beta crystals

If you heat chocolate above a certain temperature, it won’t ever solidify – it just melts completely. Below a certain temperature threshold, it will be lumpy and not at all smooth and shiny like good chocolate should be. It’s all about the different crystal forms in which cocoa butter can exist, and each form has a different melting temperature.

The tempering process forces the crystals in the butter to adopt their ideal state for the chocolatier – one in which they remain solid at room temperature, but have that unique melting feel on your tongue. That ideal state is known as either ‘beta crystals’ or ‘Type V’ crystals (there are six possible crystal structures, but the fifth – chocolatiers like to use Roman numerals – is the optimum for chocolate making.) Tempering is vital to that ‘snap’ when you bite into good chocolate and helps to maximise the shelf life of chocolate, which can be many months.

Like conching, tempering also has its variations – mostly to do with the type of chocolate and what it’s to be used for. Generally, though, it involves cooling liquid chocolate from around 50°C to around 25°C while stirring or agitating it, then increasing the temperature to the low 30s°C before cooling it again slightly, ready for pouring into moulds if necessary. If that all sounds somewhat complex: well, it needn’t be. Here’s a YouTube video that explains the science in a fairly straightforward way.

On the factory floor

And here’s a look at one of the chocolate tempering machines available in the market and an easy way to see how tempering can work in an industrial setting:

So it’s clear to understand that when the team at West Control Solutions see Easter Eggs, we think of temperature control because it’s absolutely essential in the creation of quality chocolate.

As it happens, West Control Solutions will soon be launching a compact controller that will manage temperatures in many applications including plastics and extrusion, packaging and a range of food and beverage processes including chocolate manufacturing. Importantly, it takes just a minute to set up because its start-up configuration applies default settings to the most commonly used parameters including sensor types, units, outputs, alarms and setpoint values. By focusing on only essential control requirements, the controller is not only easy to use but also significantly more affordable.

We’re certain that the low cost of our temperature control equipment will raise a few eyebrows. Talking of which, as a special Easter treat, here’s a video showing the Eyebrow Dance from Cadbury’s that formed part of the company’s TV marketing campaign a few years ago. For those who haven’t seen this before, enjoy.

Wishing you all a happy Easter.

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