Why wouldn't a cubic meter of chocolate solidify?
June 5, 2014 5:22 PM   Subscribe

I read recently that it is technically impossible to make a cubic meter of chocolate, because the center would never solidify (emphasis mine). Why wouldn't a one meter cube of chocolate fully solidify? My naive understanding of chocolate production implies it might be technically challenging to properly temper a meter cube of chocolate as a single piece, and I have no doubt that nobody has equipment to do this on hand, but I don't know why it would be impossible. Is it true that the center of a cubic meter of chocolate would never fully solidify? If so, why is it so? If merely solidifying is not the problem, is there some reason it would be impossible to properly temper such a mass of chocolate?
posted by jepler to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Total layman's explanation (because I only remember a bit about this after working for years for Godiva): The fats in chocolate melt and resolidify at different temperatures. With a giant piece, you can't consistently get a temper, and while the top will bloom, the middle's crystalline structure won't get back together correctly to actually solidify.

You could conceivably melt previously-tempered layers of chocolate to solidify on top of one another, but to create a solid piece of chocolate from its ingredients all in one giant lump, you just can't temper it correctly, because you can't bring the entire thing to temper and cool it down all together.

I've probably screwed up the science completely here, but that's the explanation I remember from the factory in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
posted by xingcat at 5:41 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

Making a non-tempered block: Would it have structural integrity to support its own weight?
posted by sarah_pdx at 5:49 PM on June 5, 2014

I'd search the Guinness World Records for communities that have manufactured huge chocolate items in an attempt to get into the Records. I recall a terrible accident with a giant popsicle made from Snapple, but that was due to human incompetence, not the intrinsic physical properties of Snapple.
posted by bad grammar at 6:19 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

you can make a cubic meter of just about anything solidify if you apply sufficiently cold temperature. chocolate is easy, compared to hydrogen and helium.
posted by bruce at 6:25 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

That's true, bruce, but it seems like the implication is "solidify at something close to room temperature."
posted by Chrysostom at 6:29 PM on June 5, 2014

Provably false: lay down half-inch layers until complete.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:57 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I worked for a time at

I was supposed to know the process and I learned a bit. The notion that "It turns out that it is technically impossible to make a cubic meter of chocolate, because the center would never solidify," is bs. They seem to be citing some imagined thermonuclear property that is special to the cocoa bean.

The following sentence "So the chocolate factory made a cubic meter of cocoa butter, the basis of all chocolate." renders the former statement absurd because cocoa butter has a lower melting point than "chocolate" which includes both the roasted bean and the fat [butter as they call it].

TFA is bs anti-Willy Wonka. You can make as big of a cube of chocolate as you want. Certainly bigger than a meter cubed.

I am now interested in knowing how large a planet or asteroid made of chocolate [and what amount of radioctive decay chocolate experiences] and how close to the solar body would result in a molten chocolaty center though.
posted by vapidave at 7:19 PM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

This may be cheating, but technically, isn't a cubic meter a unit of volume? Saying "one cubic meter" isn't the same as specifically saying "a cube measuring one meter on each edge." The record largest chocolate bar "measured 4.0 m (13 ft 1.48 in) by 4.0 m (13 ft 1.48 in) by 0.35 m (1 ft 1.78 in)" for a volume of 5.6 cubic meters.
posted by payoto at 7:21 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

you can make a cubic meter of just about anything solidify if you apply sufficiently cold temperature. chocolate is easy, compared to hydrogen and helium.

There are differences between freezing and tempering, insofar as the two processes result in different crystal structures and thus two different end products. Both processes result in solids, true, but tempered and frozen chocolate are two different foods. Most people colloquially understand solid chocolate to be tempered, not frozen.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:47 PM on June 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is one of those questions that has a lot of unstated assumptions (like tempered all at once) and so is impossible to actually definitively answer because the answer depends on which unstated constraints one is operating under. However, to fulfill the bet they could have just stacked 106 1cm cubed chunks of chocolate into a 1 meter cubed block. Viola: 1 cubic meter of chocolate that would have fulfilled the intent of the payoff of the bet even if they couldn't have cast it in one go. I'd feel cheated myself.
posted by Mitheral at 9:39 PM on June 5, 2014

As long as you don't try to do it the stupid way (melt an entire cubic metre of chocolate, dump it all in a cube-shaped cubic metre tank, wait) it should not only be possible but fairly easy, requiring patience but no special equipment. Just melt small batches in a saucepan and scrape them out them out into your mould tank one by one. By the time you'd filled the mould there would be half a metre of nicely tempered chocolate between the centre of the block and the place where your latest batch was fusing with the top.

Might be able to go a little faster if you had a little fan blowing into the top of the mould the whole time.
posted by flabdablet at 4:03 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

But... What if you tempered the chocolate and then put it into mold? Like most people do?
posted by Neekee at 5:19 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I saw Janine Antoni's artwork, "Gnaw" several years back.

Even after she'd gnawed on it for several days, I'd say that's close to a cubic meter of tempered chocolate.
posted by notyou at 5:56 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Gnaw" used chocolate with wax in it, which isn't cheating, exactly, but isn't really pure chocolate. You can put paraffin in chocolate to assist with snap and shelf life.
posted by xingcat at 6:32 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Late to the party, and certainly not an expert, but xingcat's explanation makes a lot of sense scientifically. Just wanted to add that chocolate is a colloidal substance structurally (fats suspended in non-fat solid particles). IANAChemist but thought that this could explain difficulty with tempering large pieces of chocolate such as a cubic meter.
posted by strelitzia at 1:52 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering about it from a different direction. Solidification occurs along a temperature/pressure curve, just as vaporiztion (boiling) does. Colloidal substances, of course, aren't going to have a single solidification point anyway. For instance, once melted, chocolate will stay liquid below the temperature at which it first melted. Wax behaves the same way, so the cause might be the lipids involved, and not just the colloidal property.

So, would the weight of one meter of chocolate above be enough to melt the chocolate at room temperature, thus making it very difficult to keep the whole thing solid? Don't know; but it might be the source of the statement.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:08 AM on June 8, 2014

Should be easy enough to find out: just make a metre-high Jenga tower of ordinary chocolate bars. Pressure is determined by column height, not bulk, so you'd need nowhere near a cubic metre of chocolate to do that test.
posted by flabdablet at 3:42 AM on June 9, 2014

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