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I vividly remember molten chocolate was supposed to be stirred in one direction; there was even a name for this procedure. My friend, who used to work (sales) at a large Belgian chocolate factory, told me that as far as he could remember this had to do with the 'shinyness' of the chocolate. When stirred in the wrong direction they'd lose a couple of hours to try and 'salvage' the batch (which was then used for lower-end products).

Sadly I forgot the name, because I always figured just googling it would shower me with results. However I can't find anything (except forum-posts that that confirm my recollection but don't give an answer other than 'who cares, it ends up in your stomach anyway').

So, what direction (clock-wise or counter-clock-wise), and how is this called again?

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    Surely if it makes a difference at all, the answer would depend on whether you're left or right handed! – Cascabel Dec 7 '14 at 9:21
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    I'm sure it's possible that there's something I just don't know, but this sounds highly implausible and maybe even scientifically impossible. The direction in which you stir simply has nothing whatsoever to do with crystal formation - only the temperature matters. Certainly I've stirred in both directions - sometimes in the same batch - and haven't noticed any difference. – Aaronut Dec 7 '14 at 10:35
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    @Linda: could you please explain this further? Why do you mention 'if right-handed'? @ jefromi also mentioned importance of left vs right-handedness.. Surely, there must be some logic to this? @ Aaronut: thanks for your thoughts. For all I care it's a urban myth, but then.. where does it come from (and origin of the myth based on something, is there a 'common' mis-interpretation)? – stir_choc Dec 7 '14 at 12:13
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    I don't think THE direction is important, only that the direction is not changed. By maintaining the same direction you are less likely to overmix. Also, reversing directions can create a vortex that can incorporate air into whatever you are mixing (with chocolate this is usually undesirable). I would consider it to be conventional wisdom. – Stephen Eure Dec 7 '14 at 12:20
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    My point was that everything about the stirring (the bowl, the tool, the chocolate) is symmetric, so if the direction is important, the only possible reason is that, say, a right handed person scrapes the side of the bowl with the spatula better if they go clockwise, and that'd have to be reversed if you're left handed. I didn't say it mattered, though, I really doubt it does. The fact that the story just had a single direction is another sign it's not real. – Cascabel Dec 7 '14 at 17:11
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In the time before electric mixing, chocolate, made by hand, sometimes required the effort of multiple people switching out as they tired, needed to work on some other task, or switched in and out cheaper laborers and experts during less or more critical stages of the process.

Mixing chocolate in one direction is important not because there's "one true direction" but because changing direction in the middle of a batch altered the quality of the chocolate due to turbulent flow.

Thus large chocolate houses defined the specific direction they chose so if you had to stir a pot, you didn't have to ask the previous person which direction they chose, or guess. Everyone in that company stirred in the same direction.

The direction itself didn't matter - the consistency of direction is what mattered.

This is rarely an issue now. Few people eschew mechanical means of stirring, and one doesn't switch machines in the middle of a batch - the machine doesn't tire.

But yes, some companies did adopt a consistent stirring direction that did improve their chocolate by reducing process turbulence.

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    To some degree it's akin to the cook whose friend asked why she always cut the roast in half. "That's the way my mom did it, and it always turned out wonderfully!" Eventually the cook asked her mother, to which she responded, "My roasting pan couldn't hold a whole roast at once." – Adam Davis Dec 8 '14 at 16:40
  • I picked this answer because I think it sheds a reasonable light on the origin of the 'myth'. However I must admit, really I like all answers equally: each brings good and relative information and explanation. – stir_choc Dec 8 '14 at 22:47
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I see enough here: Rheological measurements of chocolate quality:

  • non-Newtonian liquid
  • non-ideal plastic behavior
  • time-dependent behavior
  • Thixotropic/non-thixotropic transition

To make me think that changing the direction in which you are stirring melted chocolate might easily cause changes in the properties of the melt that take a while to settle down. However, if there were a "clockwise in the northern hemisphere and counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere" rule, or some such, that rule should appear in the cited tech literature. It does not, so there probably is no such rule.

  • I was just about to discard it as a 'myth' other than the scientifically (but nitpicky) Coriolis effect (that apparently Cook's Illustrated has some recipes that (ab)use this effect). But then I found some papers (and references to them) about stirring-direction having a measurable effect on gluten(length), polymer(strength) and chiral pairs (orientation ?). While the origin might be a myth (altough craftsmen often noted things before they were scientifically proven), I (currently) still can not discard it as a complete myth. – stir_choc Dec 7 '14 at 19:20
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    Cooks illustrated has recipes that make use of the Coriolis Effect? Good grief. It doesn't affect anything smaller than weather systems! – ElendilTheTall Dec 7 '14 at 20:00
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    @stir_choc Pretty sure that's a joke. – Cascabel Dec 7 '14 at 20:13
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    @stir_choc There's a difference between "nitpicky" and "has no measurable effect"; the former sounds like you mean "this tiny tiny effect is what makes the difference" and the latter says "this falsehood is why people think this matters but it really doesn't". – Cascabel Dec 7 '14 at 20:32
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    @stir_choc Ah, okay, never mind then. Yeah, I think it got a bit lost in translation, sorry. It really sounded like you meant it could be a tiny but real effect, enough to justify the original story. – Cascabel Dec 7 '14 at 20:44
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Hello @stir_choc and welcome to Seasoned Advice! You really gave us a tough question! I have to admit that I had never heard of this. However after much digging it appears that there is in fact a very scientific explanation for the reason behind this.

When I first started researching this, I came up with many results for recipes that gave the instruction to stir in one direction only. Some stated that it was important or that the dish would be ruined if not done correctly, but none said why.

Thanks to a similar question on the SE Physics site, I was able to dig up more information. As @Jefromi and @Aaronut noted, temperature is the most important factor. But there are other factors involved, not only for chocolate but for other mixtures.

Simply put, by stirring gently in one direction you are creating a laminar flow as opposed to a turbulent flow. This helps to keep from incorporating air bubbles and lowering the temperature. Also, stirring in one direction allows the protein molecules to form into strings. If you stir in one direction and then reverse direction, they will form into balls.

The flow and shear are important in that they affect aspects such as texture, viscosity, mouthfeel, etc. With chocolate, probably more so than other foods, you would want the flow to be as laminar as possible.

This link has a ton of information on physics in food production and is primarily focused on chocolate. And fortunately it is written pretty much in lay terms. (There is a wealth of information and studies available but most are published by physicists and way out of my league.)

This link explains a little about how stirring in one direction only affects the protein molecules when making dumplings. (And what that means to the finished product.)

So, while I was skeptical about the whole idea, it appears that there could be merit in it. That said, I think it would be much more critical in commercial production than in a home kitchen. As I read on many posts, most people get good results without incorporating this. I may just have to give it a try and see if I can distinguish any difference! :)

Hope this helps! :)

  • I found some papers (and references to them) talking about measurable differences depending on stirring-direction in solutions for gluten(length), polymer(strength) and chiral pairs (orientation ?). Let's assume the factory that fills the trucks with chocolate stirred in direction X (regardless of it being the 'optimum' direction) and the factory that receives the trucks (making chocolate bars for example) has it's machine rotating in the opposite direction. Would that (at least temporarily) destroy those protein molecules? – stir_choc Dec 7 '14 at 19:38
  • The molecules won't be destroyed, @stir_choc; it sounds like the larger structures they are intended to form might not come together in exactly the right way, however. – jscs Dec 7 '14 at 19:51
  • @JoshCaswell: sorry you are right, should have been: protein molecule strings (to late to edit that). Or (if applicable, I'm no food scientist/chemist) gluten(strains?), protein(thingy's) or chiral pairs(alignment?) – stir_choc Dec 7 '14 at 20:00
  • I'm not sure where you read that about northern/southern hemisphere, but it's a joke, or someone thinking a joke was true and repeating it as truth. The Coriolis effect doesn't do anything at all significant on things that size. – Cascabel Dec 7 '14 at 20:15
  • @Jefromi While I did read that in two or three places, as noted I was a bit skeptical. Further reading confirms that you are correct. I am deleting that from my answer. – Cindy Dec 7 '14 at 20:43
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It sounds like the "one correct direction" thing isn't real. However, it's definitely a good idea to stir consistently in one direction, to keep things flowing smoothly (laminar flow) rather than creating turbulence. It's possible that they picked one direction as the standard direction and told everyone to stir that way to make sure it was consistent. But if the idea is that clockwise is actually inherently better than counterclockwise, that sounds like a superstition or joke.

Chocolate comes out shiny and snappy thanks to a process called tempering. It does involve holding the chocolate at a well-controlled temperature and stirring to promote crystal formation, and it is pretty sensitive. But the chocolate doesn't have any idea what direction it's being stirred. The easiest way to mess it up is by getting the temperature wrong, which could actually involve stirring: if it's a large batch and the heat's only coming from the bottom, the stirring might be helping to maintain the correct temperature throughout the chocolate, and if you don't stir deep enough, you'd ruin the temper. Stirring too vigorously (especially if you're pulling in air and cooling the chocolate down) could also cause problems - and this includes things like reversing direction and creating a bunch of turbulence.

With a big batch, if you discovered bad tempering once it'd cooled, I could easily imagine it'd take hours trying to gently reheat and retemper it. And it really is finicky - if you don't know what you're doing, you can completely mess it up and have no idea what you did wrong. I can easily imagine jokes like this ("oh, the tempering's ruined, must've stirred it the wrong direction"), or superstitions ("I swear if I stir it clockwise it always works"). So this does seem consistent with your friend's story, it's just that it's not really anything to do with what specific direction you stir the chocolate in.

  • Thank you for (all) your contribution(s)! I tried tricking the friend ('s memory) by saying I found the answer and that it was 'tempering'. He instantly responded: 'no no, that (tempering) is indeed the most important thing to get a usable end-product, but this was about maintaining the batch'. Meanwhile we both googled 'shininess chocolate' and failed to come up with results (he said the explanation was among the top-links back then). I think I should leave the question open a little longer, there might actually be something to it. – stir_choc Dec 7 '14 at 19:49
  • @stir_choc I edited a bit - maintaining the batch means holding temper, which means basically the same problems as getting it tempered in the first place. I did add in the only practical reason I can think to pick a specific direction, though! – Cascabel Dec 7 '14 at 20:53
  • I don't buy the laminar versus turbulent flow argument. There's always going to be a big regiou of turbulence behind your stirrer as the liquid rushes into the low-pressure region it creates. – David Richerby Dec 7 '14 at 21:22
  • @DavidRicherby Sure, but it's a lot worse if you have it circulating one way and then try to reverse it. – Cascabel Dec 7 '14 at 22:37
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One must stir molten chocolate in whatever direction one feels like.

Really. There's no magic about what direction you stir. There's not even really any magic about always stirring in one direction, though if your stirring technique is bad, being told to pick a direction and stick to it can help improve it. (As in, if your stirring technique involves slopping things about in a random manner, stirring some parts and not others, then being forced to go around in circles will be an improvement, regardless of whether said circles are widdershins or sunward.)

Trust me. There's no magic in cooking. Or if there is, it sure doesn't lie in the direction you happen to stir your chocolate.

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The only way it would matter which direction you stir is if there is some difference in the way you stir one direction vs the other. For example, if the industrial size mixer they were using in your friend's chocolate factory had blades that were shaped to move in a specific direction.

  • Hmm, given that I just spoke to my friend again who said the same machine was also used for cacao-butter (hence the reverse whatever-direction switch). Now I assume they could also switch blades.. So putting on the right blade but letting it rotate in the wrong direction would cause problems outlined in other answers. Good call! – stir_choc Dec 7 '14 at 23:07

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