How food tastes is critical to how we enjoy life. Not only is it connected to how much pleasure we get from eating but also to the quantity we consume, and ultimately the impact we have on the globe. Using flavour in craft chocolate and how it works could be the signpost we need to apply to all our food.
Understanding flavour in craft chocolate
One of the best aspects of craft chocolate is that it should be enjoyed slowly – a no munching zone! One of my favourite chocolate makers, Zotter, includes a slip in every chocolate bar to remind us how to get the best out of it.
Before you put the chocolate in your mouth, smell it and really think about what kind of aromas it has. Then placing a small amount of craft chocolate on your tongue allows its aromas and flavours develop as the chocolate melts. Just as we sip wine to enjoy the maximum terroir offered by it, chocolate’s origins and bean flavours can be noted when enjoyed slowly.
To fully appreciate why time is a key factor in how our nose and mouth work in combination to allow flavours to develop, you can try this simple experiment:
- take some craft chocolate if you have some, or some fruit jam
- while you pinch your nose closed, place the chocolate/jam on your tongue
- keep your nose closed and focus on what you can taste on your tongue – remember to breathe through your mouth!
- after about 5-10 seconds release your nose and then think again about what you can taste and recognise as flavours
So why does that happen?
The distinct change in perception is all related to our olfactory system – the nose and tongue work in combination to allow our brains to experience a whole range of flavours and aromas. And we are lucky as animals such as cats have a much-reduced sense of aroma and flavour when eating do to their physiology.
Other factors play a part in tasting and appreciating craft chocolate, namely mouthfeel and texture. Sensed throughout our whole mouth, this is a key part of our love for chocolate. And the more you taste craft chocolate, you will come across examples that are not as creamy or smooth as industrial chocolate, but that have far more depth of flavour.
Some craft chocolate makers even add in cocoa nibs to their bars to offer extra flavour and texture on the palate.
Over the Christmas period my daughter was gifted a very well-known – very large – bar of industrial chocolate. Not wanting to waste it, we opened it and shared out a few pieces. We were all stunned at how we were very aware of the mouthfeel and texture being so different – and disappointed at the lack of flavour and aroma. It took a while to shift the fatty, sugary mouthfeel that coated our tongues and mouths.
Since embarking on our craft chocolate discovery, we have consumed very little industrial chocolate – just on the odd occasion. In the space of 12 months, we have reduced the amount we eat but really enjoy 2 or 3 small squares we eat – and we discuss our preferences and thoughts on the aromas and flavours. It feels like a better, more engaged way to enjoy chocolate and the youngsters enjoy the fact it is more sustainable.
The varying nature of flavour
What’s more, we don’t all get the exact same flavours or aromas from the same bar. So why does everyone taste different things in chocolate? As the chocolate journalist, Sharon Terenzi, notes in her blog, our experience of flavour is impacted by so many factors from the time of day, our previous flavour experience and even the weather! To come to some way of communicating and potentially agreeing on the more common flavours tasted in craft chocolate, a variety of ways of identifying and recording them are used. Designed in collaboration with flavour expert, Alex Rast from Oxford Brookes University, this flavour map below is used by the IICCT as part of their chocolate tasting course and as a database of flavour archetypes that tasters use to profile and compare the flavours they can taste.
IICCT flavour profile
Other organisations such as cocoa runners, use a different approach. This mapping tool focusses on the wave of flavours and looks towards the length the flavours achieve on the palate as well. The full version is available here with a handy notes section to track your flavour notes.
Cocoarunners tasting wave
And of course, as Cocoarunners point out, how we experience flavour and aroma is closely tied to mouthfeel and the bitterness-astringency continuum, which you can read more about in their article on astringency.
When tasting gets serious
And just like any other industry, craft chocolate has its own awards events to highlight their best in class, such as the International Chocolate Awards highlighting the importance of traceability, sourcing sustainable cacao and of course, aromas and flavour.
For me, the most important takeaway has been that flavour and traceability in all our foods is what is key. Perhaps if we trained ourselves to enjoy the real, depth of flavour in good quality food we would need to consume less. Food that is rich in flavour means you feel sated sooner. Shouldn’t this become part of our mantra to protect our world?
What do you think?