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Remember the smell of a gush of rain on a hot street pavement, the tempting scent of ripening fruit, or the disturbing pungency of slightly rotten fruit. After a few moments, Cat als to let go of our noses. As the aroma molecules waft from my mouth to the back of my nose, they fire the nerve als that tell my brain about the different compounds in the chocolate.
And just when I think the flavors are fading, I detect a wave of something else.
Is it coffee? By some estimates, only 10 to 20 percent of what we perceive as flavor comes from our taste buds—the rest is delivered through our nose. Cat has the kind of covetable job careers advisers never tell you about at school. A chocolate expert and judge in international chocolate competitions, Cat also lectures at the International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting IICCT in London—and she is teaching us how to taste chocolate like professionals.
As I will learn on this Level 1 course, tasting chocolate like a connoisseur is challenging and not just a matter of devouring different bars to see if we can notice the difference. Fine chocolate—made from high-quality cacao beans that are often from a single origin country or region —is a world away from cheap chocolate confectionery although that has its place, too. When we place a piece of chocolate in our mouth, we are tasting the genetic profile of the beans; the soil, climate and environment where they grew; the care or otherwise with which they were nurtured and harvested; the fermenting, roasting and other processes that turned them into chocolate.
The beans themselves deliver astringent and bitter notes, and then the fermented pulp delivers fruity, winey and flowery flavors. Roasting and Maillard reactions give rise to a symphony of toasted, nutty, floral and spicy notes. Conching balances out these flavors, and then milk, sugar and other ingredients might be added.
The flavors in chocolate comprise hundreds of aromatic compounds. Appreciating all the nuances takes practice and focus—and a good palate. Everyone, that is except me: I had no idea what they were talking about. But Cat stresses there is no right or wrong way to eat chocolate, and the aim should be to enjoy it. But connoisseurs have devised a structured approach to chocolate tasting that uses all the senses to detect the subtleties of flavor and texture.
Specialist chocolate suppliers and makers also offer ranges that enable you to enjoy an interesting variety of flavors and textures. Avoid tasting chocolate straight after eating strongly flavored food—that spicy curry might prevent you from detecting some of the subtle notes—and clear your palate by drinking water before you start.
The surface of well-made chocolate should, generally, be smooth and shiny, indicating the cocoa butter has been properly crystallized tempered. It might also tell you the chocolate has melted and solidified again, for example, after being left out in the sun. Bloomed chocolate might not be pleasant to eat but is perfectly safe. Also notice how the chocolate breaks: a clean snap is another of proper tempering.
Now, smell the chocolate. That is because our tongues can only recognize the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami often described as savory. Both ways, receptors in the nose receive the aroma molecules and send als to the brain that allow the identifications of flavors.
To smell chocolate most effectively, hold it up to your nose and sniff and breathe several times; some people recommend holding it in cupped hands, like you might sniff brandy from a balloon glass. Cat suggests making a note of your first impressions. Now, place a small piece of chocolate in your mouth.
Quickly devouring chocolate wastes some of the interesting flavors. Notice the texture of the melted chocolate in your mouth; generally, the smoother it feels, the more it has been refined, but this is not necessarily a of quality. Some high-quality small-scale makers produce chocolate that is not as smooth and silky as mass-produced versions, simply because they are making it in small batches with different machinery.
Some chocolate, Mexican-style versions, for example, is intended to be slightly coarse. There might be a fatty sensation in your mouth, due to the addition of too much cocoa butter; an unappealing waxy sensation might suggest that fats other than cocoa butter have been used, like vegetable oil.
Focus on the flavors as they develop and change. Are there spicy notes like black pepper, cloves or licorice? Maybe you can detect a nuttiness that reminds you of almonds or hazelnuts? Or there could be roasted flavors such as tobacco, burnt caramel or coffee.
Chocolate can also have defects that make it taste bad or flavorless. Cat says another thing to look for when tasting chocolate is the balance of the tannins. These are naturally occurring compounds in cacao beans also in grape skins that create a dry, bitter, astringent sensation in the mouth.
The finest chocolate makers balance the tannins with good flavor and get the fermentation, roasting and other processes right so they do not leave an unpleasant, mouth-puckering dryness. After you swallow the chocolate, think about the aftertaste—some of the best bars deliver a series of flavors, some which linger for 20 minutes or more.
Food likes and dislikes are shaped by social and cultural factors, your food history and even what your mother ate while she was pregnant. We taste with our hearts and minds as well as our tongues. In fact, a of chocolate aficionados I spoke to while researching this book recommended ignoring the flavor notes printed on chocolate wrappers. I want people to be open to the notion that there may be a journey when they taste chocolate and be attuned to it. Our senses detect hundreds of chemicals when we taste chocolate. But flavors are incredibly hard to describe: being able to detect a flavor is much easier than putting a name to it.
So, here are some descriptors that might help you:. Fruity: Red berries, tropical fruit, dried fruit, stone fruit, citrus Earthy: Wood, hay, soil, olives, nuts, herbs Caramel: Butterscotch, brown sugar, molasses, toffee Floral: Jasmine, orange blossom, rose Dairy: Milk, cream, yogurt, butter Toasted: Espresso, smoke, tobacco, burnt Spicy: Black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, liquorice, vanilla Cocoa: Brownie, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, fudge, chocolate milk Nutty: I want to taste chocolate, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, sesame. Excerpted from Cocoa.
Used with permission of Quadrille. Created by Grove Atlantic and Electric Literature. Via Quadrille. By Sue Quinn. Sue Quinn Sue Quinn is an award-winning food writer, journalist and cookbook author, and the author of Cocoa. She travels widely to report on food trends and food producers, and also specializes in investigating the facts behind the headlines of topical food and health issues. Close to the Lithub Daily Thank you for subscribing! Like us on Facebook. Loading Comments Required Name Required Website.I want to taste chocolate
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How to taste chocolate