Chocolate science, history and fun facts – Part 3

Tasting chocolate is an entire science, and yes, there are professional chocolate tasters.

According to Maricel Presilla, author of “New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes,” in blind taste tests of chocolate, Americans typically select chocolates made from cacao beans from West Africa. This happens to be the most widely used beans in the mass produced chocolates we have all grown up with. Germans tend to dislike the bitter chocolate French love. Americans like milk and light chocolate, French like very dark, and Swiss and Japanese like a buttery or very smooth, satiny chocolate. Although in recent years, people have been selecting chocolate with higher cacao content. These chocolates are darker and become more bitter as the cacao content goes up. Much of this is due to claims that dark chocolate has health benefits and people trying different chocolates as they become more available on the mass market.

How to taste chocolates

According to expert cacao tasters, here are a few guidelines to consider when tasting chocolate.

  • Color. Chocolate varies in color due to the origin of the beans, the processing and what ingredients are added to make the final product. Color is not a determination of quality. Chocolates can vary from very light brown to very dark brown. Experts can often identify where the beans may have been grown because of its color.
  • Aromas. Our sense of smell is linked with taste. To properly taste any food, including chocolate, you must be able to smell it.
  • Undesirable smells. Cacao beans tend to absorb odors. Many of the undesirable smells may be linked with post-harvest handling of the beans. This may come from poor fermentation, over or under roasted, mold during the drying period or improper storage.
  • Desirable aromas. The first smell may be that of just chocolatey, but concentrate on the aroma and see if you can detect other nuances, like floral a hint of ripe fruit or a subtle caramel aroma.
  • Taste. Tasting chocolate is an entire science, and yes, there are professional chocolate tasters. They are trained to pick up even the minutest flavors. Professional tasters generally taste chocolate that are in the same class or the same percentages of cocoa at one time.
  • Chocolate flavor. Take a small bite and leave the chocolate on your tongue for about 20 seconds. When does the chocolate flavor pop? If the chocolate flavor starts slow, mounts to a crescendo and then lingers, the chocolate trade calls this as a long finish. This is the desired tasting experience.
  • Natural flavors. The natural flavors of chocolate will become evident as you begin tasting chocolates made in various countries as well as where the cocoa beans originated. Flavors range from nutty, acidic, bitter, fruity, citrus and “brown fruit,” referring to flavors like prunes, raisins or dried cherries. These flavors are, of course, subjective to the taster.
  • Texture. When tasting chocolates, texture refers to the “mouth feel” of the chocolate. Some words to describe the “mouth feel” would be creamy, smooth, gritty, super smooth or even satiny. The smoothness of chocolate is achieved by a process called conching. Conching is basically grinding the beans to varying degrees of fineness. Swiss people like very smooth chocolate and it requires days of conching to achieve their preferred smoothness.

Have fun tasting some new chocolates; try picking up on the different aromas, taste and textures. Chocolate tasting parties are very popular right now. Invite your friends to bring a couple of chocolate bars to share and see if you can find a new favorite.

Other Michigan State University Extension articles in this series

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