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Plain And Simple Chocolate: A Taste-Test

Here is a guide to choosing, tasting and appreciating chocolate -- no frills, no add-ins.

chocolate bars

Photo: Lee McCoy (Flickr)

When you break chocolate bars into bite-sized pieces, listen for a sharp snap. It indicates good quality and freshness.

Chocolate lovers today can choose just about any flavor and variety imaginable — bacon or coconut ash, anyone? The many flavor combinations are certainly mouth-watering, but the taste of plain cacao should not be overlooked.

And, what better way to develop an appreciation for chocolate than to have a taste-test!

Bittersweet vs. semisweet, bakers chocolate vs. raw chocolate… Before you make your selections, read this to learn what the different categories mean.

Percentages

Most chocolate labels include “% cacao.” That refers to the percentage of ingredients by weight that comes from cacao beans. The higher the percentage of cacao, the greater the bitterness and intensity of chocolate flavor. A higher percentage also means less added sugar.

You may be a devout dark chocolate eater, but for taste-testing purposes, you’ll want to try a wide range of cacao percentages.

Experiment with different brands, too. Even if cacao percentages are the same, flavors and textures may vary from brand to brand. Flavor additions like sea salts, chilies and fruits are tempting, but when first exploring the differences between chocolates, keep it simple with the unflavored stuff.

All Your Senses

Before you start tasting, make sure your chocolate is at room temperature. If it has been in the fridge, take it out and let it sit for a while. Your tastebuds will not pick up on the flavors of chilled chocolate.

Here are some ways to be mindful of the many variations of chocolates:

  1. Break off small tasting samples from each chocolate bar. Listen for a sharp snap – it indicates good quality and freshness. Darker chocolate, with its lower sugar content, will have the loudest, most crisp break.
  2. Observe each chocolate. There will be a visual difference between the sweetest (white) and most bitter varieties (nearly black). Notice the gloss on each chocolate. Darker chocolates are often times glossier than their sweeter, creamier counterparts.
  3. Smell the chocolate and try to describe the subtle aromas. Aromas change depending on where the cacao beans were grown and how the chocolate was made. They may be reminiscent of spices, nuts, milk or sugar. Additional flavors or add-ins (i.e. mint, coconut, coffee, espresso and nuts) will alter the scents.
  4. Finally, taste the chocolate. But wait, don’t chew! Let the chocolate melt on your tongue, noticing the consistency and smoothness. Some chocolates are dry, while others are creamy. Some melt faster than others, depending on the intensity.

After finishing the chocolate, cleanse your palate with green apples, plain unsalted crackers or bread — and definitely keep a glass of water on hand!

Repeat and enjoy with as many different chocolate varieties as you like!

Sarah Ostaszewski

Sarah Ostaszewski is a student of anthropology and fine arts at Indiana University. She dreams of fresh summer tomatoes from her family's garden, and she loves tasting unique ingredients, learning culinary histories, and tracing foods back to their roots.

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  • stepanka

    child labor and chocolate?

  • http://thechocolatecult.blogspot.com/ The Chocolate Priestess

    Nice article. We talk about all these things plus what stepanka brings up below on The Chocolate Cult from time to time. We write about all things related to chocolate!

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