On the day one famous confectionary brand decides that one of its oldest product lines would lose its walnut because of rising costs and be rebranded,  also see that Brazilian macadamia nut growers are attempting (unsuccessfully so far, apparently) to market vegetable-only chocolate that would be suitable for people with a lactose, or milk, intolerance. Other chocolate companies merge and are taken over and famous and much-loved chocolate flavors for those of us of a British persuasion become sadly Americanized. There is even talk of a famous nut-chocolate spread being forged into solid bars, another manufacturer has dropped the "organic" and the "fair trade" and, the mountain range of a famous Swiss chocolate bar now has fewer peaks.  What is the world coming to? And, seriously, don't get me started on carob.

The chocolate so many of us love today is actually very different from the original incarnation, which was a bitter coffee-like infusion of the roasted and ground beans of the cocoa plant, Theobroma cacao plant. They were drinking chocolate almost 4000 years ago in what we now know as Mexico and Guatemala. Chocolate was brought to Europe and thence the rest of the world along with various other plant species from Central and South America - namely potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, coffee and cocaine etc - during the 16th Century. Chocolate did not really catch on as a beverage or otherwise until Spanish monks added sugar or honey as a sweetener and various flavorings such as vanilla. The emerging craze for chocolate came at a high price though as it was only possible to grow and process the beans economically with slave labor.

Chocolate production and the development of novel products came with the Industrial Revolution and the advent of chemistry as a true science throwing off its alchemical roots in favor of rational reactions. In 1815, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten added alkaline salts to chocolate to reduce the bitterness still further. But the addition of Henri Nestlé's milk powder to the chocolate-making process in 1875 by Daniel Peter was the dawn of what we know as milk chocolate and the early spread of chocoholism.

One of the problems noticed early in the mass production, transportation, and storage of chocolate was chocolate bloom. This unappealing white, almost powdery coating, often looks like mould but is known to be of two types: fat bloom wherein the crystal properties of the fat in the chocolate change and sugar bloom where moisture adsorption affects the sugar ingredients. Much research is still ongoing into the polymorphs of the various components of chocolate and the inhibition of various types of bloom. Then there was a recent standout paper entitled "Lubrication of chocolate during oral processing" discussed the conversion of chocolate as a solid composite material to an oil-water fluid emulsion, as it might. And, then there is the idea that chocolate bars are getting smaller but nevertheless making men depressed. Indeed, all of concern to chocolatiers the world over. In addition to the materials science aspect of chocolate research, there is also much toing and froing of the notion that chocolate might be a healthy foodstuff because of its antioxidant content but conversely the cardiovascular risks associated with the high sugar and fat content are worrying...to some people.

I discovered a long time ago, ego-surfing my own name on the internet, that there is a renowned chocolatier called David Bradley. There are also at least two actors, two murderers, a science fiction journalist, and a porn star, but that's another story. I'm sure the chocolatier makes delightful products although I've no idea of how he controls bloom, whether he does or doesn't use walnuts, and whether there are fewer peaks in any mountainous product lines he has.

Meanwhile, the University of Cambridge, well known for chocolate science, was recently recruiting for a doctoral student to find out why the delicious sugary, fatty composite material undergoes such ready phase transitions in the mouth, in your hands, and on your clothes. Ultimately, the research might lead to a way to keep chocolate firm even when the temperature rises. It is an important point for marketing chocolate products in The Tropics, for instance, but in the face of global warming, melting could become more of a problem even for those of us in the temperate zones. After all, if climate change ruins everything else, at least we would still have chocolate.

David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase.