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Tutorial participants kept wrappers from all the different chocolate they sampled. They approached their topic rather as at a wine-tasting: savoring samples; considering the "bouquet"; and examining the processes that brought about differentiating factors such as texture, snap and color.

February 2011


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Scientist savors chocolate tutorial

Though the first chocolate bar was not invented until 1842, human beings have been reaping the taste benefits of chocolate since the days of Mayan civilization.

While for most of us chocolate is a treat, it became a research interest for Kari Cunningham (Chemistry), who teaches an honors tutorial on the chemistry of chocolate.

“Being a big fan of both chemistry and chocolate, the combination of the two subjects was interesting for me to research and present,” says Cunningham.

Developing the tutorial for its first run this fall, Cunningham worked with Caressa Swanson ’11, a math major who had developed an interest in chocolate after taking a course on it during her study-abroad experience in Italy.

The course covers topics relating to both chocolate’s production and its chemical effects on the body.

As Cunningham explains: “We learn about the process for making chocolate, the difference between types of chocolate and how to tell a well-made chocolate from a poorly made one. We talk about the percent cocoa content and how that affects taste, mouthfeel and nutrition. We go over the myths about chocolate being an aphrodisiac and new information about health benefits attributed to some of the chemicals in chocolate.”

While the combination of science and dessert may seem unusual at first glance, foodies and scientists alike would agree that there is a clear connection between the two.

“The food we eat becomes incorporated into our bodies. Food is simply a mixture of chemicals. We are what we eat, and you should know what you are eating, whether it is a snack or a meal,” says Cunningham.

Tutorials like “The Chemistry of Chocolate” are short-term, small-group courses devoted to the collaborative study of a specific topic. Students in the honors program can choose to take three in a given semester to replace one traditional honors-designated course.

Feb. 1, 2011

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