Level: Novice

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I added cedar oil to my chocolate and it seized.  Why did this happen?  I made sure there was no water in there.

I was wondering about adding flavors to the white chocolate in the melanger? At which point? I was considering using oils unless you have another recommendation.  Do you know ratios to attempt to begin with? Thinking of Orange, Lemon, lavender - not altogether.

I would very much like to combine some interesting flavours to the chocolate I am producing (for instance a dark chocolate orange), but know there are issues around water and shelf life in combining ingredients. Is the best way to go adding oils when the chocolate is in the melanger or would you recommend what you did with honey - infusing alcohol beforehand and adding to nibs?

It looks like this week is flavor addition week. 

It is nice to see everyone has received the message that you can only use oils in your chocolate.  Or more specifically, extracts should not contain any water.

Here is the thing though.  It is not as simple as oil or water.  There are a lot chemical compounds in the world that refuse to fit into either category.

Essential oils are called oils from a tradition standpoint and because the extracts do not mix into water readily.  'if they are not water, they must be oil'.  Unfortunately that does not mean they are always true oils.  I would hazard to say most are not what we think of as oils, i.e. hydrocarbons, fatty acids or TAGs (triacylglcerides like cocoa butter).  There are aldehydes, ketones, complex alcohols, terpenes, dienes and a host of other organic compounds.  And very rarely is there only a single compound in an essential oil.  Have a look at the dozens of compounds found in ‘cedar wood oil’

The point of all this is that when compounds are extracted from a substrate like a bark, leaf, pod or whatever, if it does not dissolve in water it is simply referred to as an oil. 

That catch is that that extract may or may not behave with chocolate.  Water is not the only thing that can make a chocolate seize.  Many other chemicals can do it.  We just don’t encounter them most days so we focus on water. 

How can you know if a certain flavoring or essential oil will cause problems?  You have to test it.   It's really the fastest way.  I'll go into that in a little bit.

 I want to give a word of caution.  Not all essential oils are safe for internal use.  Many even say so on the label.  “Not for Internal Use”.  Some are poisonous and some have just used an extraction technique that leaves them unsuitable for consumption.  If in doubt make sure you ask for and find ones that are specifically used as flavorings.

There is one other case that they might be labeled “Not for Internal Use”.  It has to do with concentration.  There is a saying that sometimes that the only difference in a poison and a medicine is concentration.  Just think of overdosing on a medicine.  Too much and it becomes toxic.

The example in this case that comes to mind is cinnamon oil, or more specifically cinnamaldehyde.  It is perfectly safe to consume in its diluted form.  But if you put it on your skin straight or swallow some in pure form it will give you a very nasty chemical burn.

In this case, dilution is the solution.  And we can use this information at times with something like cedar oil.  Have a look at some of the compounds in cedar oil.


Compare those against fatty acids (food oils and organic acids) in general and cocoa butter.

I’m not 100% sure why cedar oils don’t mix in well to chocolate but they do look quite different.  It isn’t that they are too much like water and make the solids swell up.  It could be though that they are too different and stay in concentrated pockets and are just too aggressive to the chocolate suspension.  Whatever the reason, there is sometimes a technique you can use to adding it to your chocolate.

There is an adage in chemist that like dissolves like and it works well here.

The cedar oil is too strong (for lack of a better term) to mix in straight.  But if you melt some cocoa butter and mix the cedar oil into that at say 1:10 that is often enough of a dilution that when you add it to your chocolate it doesn’t freak out and seize.

And this is a good technique to use regardless while you are formulating your recipes.  Oils can be quite strongly flavored and getting them evenly and quickly dispersed, even in a melanger can be a challenge.  Diluting a little helps it distribute easier in your small test batch. 

You are doing a small test batch, right?  That probably should have been my very first piece of advice.  It allows you to both gauge whether you can add your oil straight without need of diluting it and gets you into the ball park of how much you need.  When I am experimenting with flavorings (usually over the holidays and with truffles) I take a couple tablespoons of chocolate and mix it with a drop or two of my extract and see what happens.  If it mixes in fine at that strong concentration I know it will behave fine in the melanger.  If it seizes I know I probably need to dilute it with cocoa butter, and I promptly test that too.

As for how much - it is such a broad range.  I’ve used as little as 1/2 teaspoon of rosemary oil in 1 lb of chocolate all the way up to 3 tablespoons of orange and lavender oil per pound.  Again a great reason to work on a small (2 oz or so) test batch and scale up.  All I can really say is let taste be your guide.

I personally like adding flavorings right at the end of refining, in the melanger.  It seems to impart the strongest vibrancy.

Finally, what if you can only find an alcohol based extraction?  This is where that dilution technique can work wonders.  Nearly all alcohol extractions have water in them to some degree or another.  As much as I warn about water, it again comes down to concentration.  Drops of water can cause a chocolate to seize.  But if distributed out sufficiently it can allow you introduce a little bit.  

This is one of the reasons you should leave your lid off your melanger when you first start your chocolate.  Evenly distributed moisture is driven off.  But if it collects on the lid and drops back in it can cause the chocolate to suddenly thicken.

Really it is about testing.  Mix some of your extract in with some cocoa butter and see if they dissolve together.  If they do, you are good to go.  If not, and in some cases they may not if there is too much water, you have to try something else.

That something else can indeed be adding the extract to your nibs and drying them gently.  You can also try heating the cocoa butter and alcohol extract to 150-170 F.  Cocoa butter doesn’t dissolve in cold ethanol but does pretty well in hot ethanol.  With some careful handling you might be able to get it into your chocolate and distributed without the water giving you grief.

I hope that helps and keep those questions coming.  The queue is looking quite small currently.