The reason behind the pleasure derived from eating chocolate appears to lie in the food’s ability to coat the tongue, returning an irresistible melt-in-your-mouth sensation. This is the conclusion reached in a study, published in the American Chemical Society journal Applied Materials & Interfaces, conducted by scientists at the University of Leeds.

The team, led by Siavash Soltanahmadi, examined the characteristics of chocolate to understand the reasons why it feels so good to us. The researchers studied the physical process by which a solid square of chocolate transforms into a liquid emulsion in the mouth. According to the investigation, chocolates release a lipid film that coats the tongue, restoring a smooth sensation during chewing.

This finding, the authors point out, could be used to design low-fat products that mimic the sensation of less-healthy foods. The perception of looseness, the experts comment, depends on the way the tongue lubricates. “We believe it is possible to develop a new generation of chocolates,” Soltanahmadi notes, “that are low in fat but can mimic the less healthy food.

For the research, experts used an artificial tongue and a well-known brand of chocolate. “If the lipid layer is on the outside of the chocolate,” Soltanahmadi reports, “the sensation of meltiness and lubrication is more effective. The proper combination of this fatty coating and the cocoa particles contributes to the better quality of the product. We therefore hypothesize that chocolate bars that are low in fat but covered with a thin layer of fat could fool the palate and return the same sensation as traditional chocolate.”

Developing a satisfyingly tasty but healthier product is a real challenge for the food industry, the authors point out, because currently available alternatives to chocolate bars do not seem as appetizing. “Our research opens a path to a new generation of healthier chocolate,” the authors conclude, “but at the same time sheds new light for the possibility of designing healthier versions of other foods that turn from solids to liquids in the mouth, such as ice cream or cheese.

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