Chocolate as a Medium for Science Communication

By Michael Edmonds 25/06/2011

Last night I was one of three speakers at “Unwrapping the Secrets of Chocolate” an event developed to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry. It was held at She Chocolat Restaurant in Governor’s Bay just over the hill from Christchurch.

The event consisted of three talks and several videos. My talk was first and looked at the chemistry of chocolate and talked about the smell of chocolate, its chemical complexity, psychoactive compounds and it’s nutritional value. During the talk I was able to very lightly touch on concepts such as dosage being important, what chemical structures represent, and why when we consider the nutritional value of food we need to think about all the components it is made up of (i.e. chocolate may be rich in antioxidants but that doesn’t mean it is better for us than fruit).

The second talk by Amy Johnston Bray from Science Alive, looked at chocolate and addiction – how scientists have investigated the seemingly addictive nature of chocolate using some very clever studies. It was a very informative, clear and humorous presentation.

The final talk by Oonagh Browne, She Restaurant’s resident chocolatier and dealt more with the art of chocolate and the practical skills involved such as tempering, as well as guiding us all in how to truly appreciate eating chocolate.

The event finished up with several videos on the processes involved in chocolate making.

The event started at 8.00 pm and finished at about 9.30 pm. However, attendees were advised to turn up around 7.30 pm so that they could order dessert and drinks before the talks started.

Feedback from attendees was very positive. I think the balancing of the science with the art of chocolate coupled with holding the event at a specialist chocolate restaurant played a large part in the event’s success.  Hearing about chocolate is all the better when one can consume a rich dessert or delectable hot chocolate drink at the same time.

We are planning to do it again. I was wondering if we should do anything different, perhaps a chocolate fountain. But then again, in a room filled largely with chocolate lovers perhaps this might not be the best idea looking at the youtube video below.