Chemistry alumna hits the sweet spot

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.
  • Eagranie Yuh
  • BSc’ 03

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.

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