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Chemistry class at NMSU inspires project
By Adriana M. Chavez
For the Las Cruces Bulletin
Danielle Peltier’s mom often tells her she didn’t send Peltier to New Mexico State University to become the next Willy Wonka.
But, all on her own, Peltier has begun a research project that could change the way people with vegan and dairy-free diets enjoy chocolate, especially milk chocolates.
“I’m trying to find new ways of making lactose-free chocolates using different types of milk, because right now all milk chocolate is made with whole dairy milk,” said Peltier, who is also an NMSU Track and Field athlete. “We’re working on making ones with goat milk, almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk and stuff like that.”
So far, Peltier is working on perfecting her recipe for milk chocolate made with powdered coconut and goat milks. The result is a delicious creamy milk chocolate with a mellow coconut flavor, but the chocolate melts too quickly in the eater’s hands.
“It’s harder to make chocolate than it seems, but once you learn how to make it it’s like nothing,” Peltier said.
Peltier said the idea for developing chocolates made with alternative milks was created while taking a three-part class on chocolate in the Honors College. She said she enrolled in the class due to her love of chocolate, which she has yet to grow tired of even after a year of working on her research.
The course looks at the role chocolate has played in the history of Meso- America, the science of chocolate and the commercial and artisan manufacture of chocolate. The history of chocolate goes back 4,000 years and is intertwined with the cultures and religions of the Aztecs and Mayans and their conflicts with the Spaniards. Professor Stuart Munson-Mc-Gee, a faculty member in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Family and Consumer Sciences Department, teaches the chocolate class and has been working with Peltier on her chocolate research. CHOCOLATE
He said the science of chocolate is excruciatingly precise. Chocolate processed at a temperature that is a degree too high or too low, or any slight misformulation, results in an unacceptable candy. Munson-McGee said the idea for Peltier’s research stemmed from a class conversation about milk chocolate and how it has to be made with powdered dairy milk, a recipe that prevents many people with food allergies or on vegan diets from enjoying it. He said during the conversation, Peltier discovered powdered goat, coconut and soy milks available for sale online, and she asked if she could work on a project to make chocolate with those alternative milks.
Although Peltier started her research on her own, she’s now receiving course credit for her work. Munson- McGee said the project has gone through a lot of trial and error.
“We’ve gotten rid of the initial grittiness of the chocolate, but now it melts at a low temperature and we’re trying to figure out why,” Munson-McGee said.
Peltier said she’s also experimenting with exactly how much cocoa butter needs to be added to her goat- and coconut- milk chocolate recipe to make it the perfect consistency.
“Once I have the base formula down, I can develop other formulations like goat milk and peanut butter,” Peltier said.
In the meantime, Peltier and Munson-McGee are looking into conferences or programs about chocolate making that Peltier can attend to help further her research. They are also looking into mass-producing the chocolates to sell online or in the Sam Steel Cafe at NMSU’s Gerald Thomas Hall.
Munson-McGee said he hopes the chocolates will be available for sale next spring, but the chocolate production will need to be moved to an approved facility such as the Tejada Building, which now houses production for ACES In The Hole Foods.
“This is a great example of how our undergraduate students can collaborate with faculty members on interesting research projects,” said Esther Devall, head of the Family and Consumer Sciences Department. “Danielle came up with a great idea about using alternative milks in making chocolate, and Dr. Munson- McGee is guiding her through the steps in the process. It will be exciting to have student- made chocolates to sell in the Sam Steel Cafe.”
Peltier said she’d like to see enough consumer demand for her lactose- free chocolates to allow her to develop various flavors.
“I’d like to make different types of allergen- free and vegan chocolate, a broader range of chocolates for everyone to be able to enjoy,” Peltier said.