Chemistry alumna hits the sweet spot

April 6, 2017

Eagranie Yuh is a writer and chocolate expert
Eagranie Yuh is a writer and chocolate expert. Photo: Eagranie Yuh.

Eagranie Yuh (BSc’ 03) used her degree in organic chemistry to further her culinary skills, specializing in French pastry and artisanal chocolate making. Now she works in corporate communications, regularly pens food articles, and has written a book about the art of chocolate tasting.

How much chemistry is there in chocolate making?

A lot. Chocolate comes from a plant and has to be fermented. The beans are dried and roasted. When you roast cocoa beans you create molecular rearrangements and reactions which give chocolate its flavour. One of the by-products of fermentation is acetic acid. Most people don’t want their chocolate to taste like vinegar, so through the refinement process, called conching, the acid is one of the things that comes off as a volatile gas. You also have to temper the chocolate, which is a controlled crystallization. Cocoa butter can have six crystalline forms, but only one is attractive to the chocolate maker. 

You’ve worked in chocolate shops. What was that like?

At a shop in Ottawa we did everything by hand. I also worked at a Vancouver shop that had a lot of machinery. Think of that episode of I Love Lucy with the conveyor belt. I would put naked chocolates on the belt to be coated in chocolate, and two people on the other end would decorate them.

After finishing chocolates in the morning we’d switch to packaging in the afternoon. We got the boxes and assembled them. It’s very satisfying work because you can see exactly what you’ve done in the kitchen. And it looks beautiful!

Now you’ve written a book about chocolate, The Chocolate Tasting Kit.

The kit comes with a little booklet, a crash course on how chocolate is made and how to buy it. It tells you what to look for, how to taste chocolate and how to appreciate it. Just like wine or coffee, the flavour of chocolate can vary depending on where the beans come from, and the skill of the chocolate maker. Grocery store bars tend toward bland and sweet, but high-quality chocolate can have much more nuanced flavours. Chocolate made with beans from Madagascar often tastes fruity while chocolate made with beans from the Dominican Republic can be spicy (think cinnamon and cloves).

The book doesn’t come with chocolate samples, because everyone likes something different. The fun in tasting chocolate is choosing the chocolate.

Is it possible to eat too much chocolate?

It depends. Chocolate contains theobromine, which is a stimulant and chemically almost identical to caffeine. Theobromine affects people differently. For some people, chocolate tastings at night can keep them up. I tend to eat my chocolate earlier in the day. I can’t drink coffee anymore; I’ll get jittery if I do. But I eat a lot chocolate.

UBC alumni, do you have an interesting career path, story or hobby you’d like to tell us about? E-mail us and we could feature you on our website.

  • Chemistry
  • Alumni

Musqueam First Nation land acknowledegement

UBC Science acknowledges that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

Learn more: Musqueam First Nation

Faculty of Science

Office of the Dean, Earth Sciences Building
2178–2207 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC Canada
V6T 1Z4
UBC Crest The official logo of the University of British Columbia. Urgent Message An exclamation mark in a speech bubble. Arrow An arrow indicating direction. Arrow in Circle An arrow indicating direction. A bookmark An ribbon to indicate a special marker. Calendar A calendar. Caret An arrowhead indicating direction. Time A clock. Chats Two speech clouds. External link An arrow pointing up and to the right. Facebook The logo for the Facebook social media service. A Facemask The medical facemask. Information The letter 'i' in a circle. Instagram The logo for the Instagram social media service. Linkedin The logo for the LinkedIn social media service. Lock, closed A closed padlock. Lock, open An open padlock. Location Pin A map location pin. Mail An envelope. Mask A protective face mask. Menu Three horizontal lines indicating a menu. Minus A minus sign. Money A money bill. Telephone An antique telephone. Plus A plus symbol indicating more or the ability to add. RSS Curved lines indicating information transfer. Search A magnifying glass. Arrow indicating share action A directional arrow. Twitter The logo for the Twitter social media service. Youtube The logo for the YouTube video sharing service.