Science Behind Chocolate Chantilly

(Disclaimer: illustrations used in this article are original works by the author)

You may have read or heard about the term “molecular gastronomy” before. It is a sub-discipline of food science which investigates the physical and chemical transformation of ingredients that occur during cooking. Thirty years ago, cooking and science were two completely separate fields of study. But nowadays, people think chefs are sexier when they can not only make sumptuous meal, but can also explain the scientific principles behind their recipes. In the institution I am teaching, students in the Baking and Culinary Science Diploma need to learn subjects like Food Chemistry and Baking Science to better understand what goes on when they cook food.

Today I am introducing to you a simple yet elegant recipe to make Chocolate Chantilly. The recipe was invented by Hervé This, one of the fathers of molecular gastronomy. Chantilly is a kind of foam, or mousse, made by whipping cream in a chilled bowl. However as we shall see soon, this recipe does not use cream at all.


(Note: the quantity of ingredients used in the video below may differ from the recipe. )

At a first glance, the recipe seems too simple to be true. All we need is some good quality dark chocolate and water. The resulting Chocolate Chantilly tastes airy, creamy and super chocolatey! If you are a real chocolate lover, you will love it even more than the traditional chocolate mousse, as there is no other ingredient such as cream or eggs to change the natural flavor of chocolate.

How do adding water to chocolate and whisking turn the mixture airy?

To solve this mystery, first of all you need to understand something about emulsion, which typically refers to the mixture of water and oil. It is known that water and oil do not get on too well with each other, i.e. they tend to separate into two distinct layers when we try to mix them together. A group of small molecules called emulsifiers are helpful. They are present at the water-oil boundary to bind the two phases together so they don’t go separate.

There are two types of emulsion system: 1) oil-in-water emulsion, in which water is the continuous phase and oil is the dispersed phase; and 2) water-in-oil emulsion, where water is the dispersed phase and oil is the continuous phase.

2 systems

Figure 1: Two different types of emulsion system. 

Dark chocolate contains cocoa fat, sugar, cocoa powder, soy lecithin (an emulsifier), and a small amount of water. When hot water is added and chocolate is melted, an emulsion system is formed. Water becomes the continuous phase, and oil (melted cocoa fat) becomes the dispersed phase. Therefore it is an oil-in-water emulsion.

System 2

Figure 2: System of whipped chocolate-water mixture. 

Whisking introduces air cells inside this emulsion. The oil molecules move around and coat the air cells. When cooled down over an ice bath, oil molecules solidify into fat crystals, trapping the air cells permanently. That’s how the chocolate-water mixture turns airy and increases in volume.

Dear readers to this post, do try out this recipe in your kitchen if you have the chance. While you are savouring the delicious taste of this version of chocolate mousse, don’t forget to explain the cool science behind it to your friends and family. 😀


  2. Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor. 

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