Harvard's breathable chocolate

By MIKE MILIARD  |  January 22, 2010

It's in that meeting point that Edwards lives and works. Perhaps that's why Wikipedia differentiates him from the many other David Edwardses out there — the footballer, the journalist, the politician — by identifying his profession as "ArtScientist."

Whif it good
So how does Le Whif work? Inhaling chocolate, it turns out, is more complicated than one might think. "The physics are pretty interesting," says Edwards. "The particles need to be small enough so they get in the air — but big enough that they can't, in any case, get into the lungs, no matter how hard you breathe. They need to be significantly greater than 10 microns in size, and smaller than a couple hundred microns."

Also, "there is some chemistry related to the particles themselves. It's important that they dissolve quickly in your mouth. They need to be really soluble."

Moreover, he says, "the aerodynamics are sort of complex." The delivery mechanism — Le Whif is about the size of a tube of lipstick and costs about $8 for a box of three — looks simplistic, but is thoughtfully designed. "It's easy to use, but there's some real physics in the device itself. It's important that the particles don't go to the back of your throat and make you cough."

And what's the experience like? Not having tried it myself, I can't say. But YouTube clips show users betraying a sort of bemused amusement.

One English talk-show host — after hyping Le Whif as an exciting and exotic sweet that's "no more fattening than the air we breathe!" — seemed somewhat let-down: "smells like chocolate, tastes like dust." Another online reviewer described the experience as "akin to sucking a tiny bit of cocoa powder through a straw."

But Edwards doesn't claim to be supplanting the time-tested, tummy-widening delights of the Mars bar. "It is not the replacement of the chocolate bar so much as it is the new experience of chocolate," he says. "Most people, when they whif for the first time, laugh. There's something sort of surprising about it: Oh my gosh, how weird is that?"

That's exactly the reaction he's aiming for: he seeks to use science to develop new aesthetic and experiential phenomena. Who knows? Some days those innovations might change the world. Other times they might just result in a trifle — "a great thing to have in your purse when you need a chocolate hit."

In France, where whiffing has become something of a fad, Edwards says it's popular to combine the chocolaty burst of air with a cup of coffee. (It's a tradition there to have a bit of chocolate alongside one's café crème.)

Actually, though, Le Whif also comes in a coffee flavor. And yes, "you get the caffeine hit," says Edwards. "It's like the kick of coffee without having to heat up the cup!"

Sounds a bit like the work of the fictitious inventor of Everlasting Gobstoppers and Fizzy Lifting Drinks, eh? Yes, Edwards concedes, "it has a bit of a Willy Wonka feel to it."

So what's next? Mr. Wonka — to Violet Beauregarde's chagrin — infamously invented a piece of gum that had the flavors of an entire three-course meal, from tomato soup to blueberry pie. If Le Whif catches on, could we one day literally inhale our Thanksgiving dinners?

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