Laughing gas - or nitrous oxide - produces chocolate with better bubbles and a more intense melt-in-the-mouth flavour, claim UK researchers,writes Lindsey Partos.
Chocolate makers pump gases, like carbon dioxide or nitrogen, under pressure into liquid chocolate to introduce bubbles into the formulation.
Together with number one food maker Nestle, scientists at the University of Reading investigated the impact of four different gases - carbon dioxide, argon, nitrous oxide and nitrogen - on the bubble dispersion and taste of chocolate.
A panel of 20 non-expert testers said that chocolate aerated using laughing gas had larger bubbles and the most intense cocoa flavour.
The researchers, at Reading's School of Food Biosciences, suggest that the increase in flavour intensity could be due to the "bubble hold up" , which is much higher using nitrous oxide than when using argon or nitrogen.
The testers also found that the nitrous oxide chocolate melted rapidly in the mouth.
By contrast, the argon and nitrogen samples, which produced smaller bubbles, were perceived as harder, creamier and less aerated, with a slow meltdown.
Bubbles are undervalued as a food ingredient, says lead researcher Keshavan Niranjan.
He suggests they could be used to add novel textures, structures and mouth-feels without piling on the calories.
Indeed using bubbles to bring an improve experience to chocolate consumption could be a strategy to help confectioners beat flagging sales in a saturated market.
Chocolate consumption is slowing down as health and diet concerns impact sales. Sales for chocolate across Europe is slated to reach €5.6 billion by 2007, an increase of just 4 per cent.
According to Datamonitor, in 2004 chocolate volume sales rose by less than one per cent to 605 million kg.
Full results for the 'laughing gas' chocolate will be presented at the Institute of Food Technologist's Annual Meeting in New Orleans on 15th July 2005.
In addition, full findings are published in the 19 July edition of Chemistry & Industry.