Chocolate notes

British Chocolate Week is already underway.  This year Salon du Chocolat opens its first edition in London from 18th to 20th October 2013 at National Hall, in Olympia in London. See for events around Britain including Salon du Chocolat.

Since chocoholics tend to be very serious about their subject, you might want to ensure that no foodie one-up-manship gets in the way of your enjoyment, so here is a brief guide on how to judge chocolate:

First look at your bar – it should be flawless, evenly coloured and preferably a dark mahogany.  A black chocolate implies that either it has been made predominantly from Forastero beans, or it has been over-roasted.  A strong earthy flavour implies the former, a strong bitter taste the latter.

Snap off a piece.  It should make a sharp sound and not splinter or crumble. Before popping it into your mouth, give it a thorough sniff. Since cocoa beans contain over 400 chemical compounds, you should be able to detect a sweet fragrant smell with lots of different notes. 

While you’re snapping and sniffing, make a note of how it feels.  It should feel silky rather than sticky and just begin to yield to the warmth of your fingers.

Place a piece of chocolate in your mouth and let it melt on your tongue.  As it melts carefully note its texture.  It should be smooth and buttery as it becomes a creamy liquid.  If it doesn’t immediately start to dissolve, or it has grainy, waxy or gluey texture – it’s been badly made.

Now, consider its flavour. It should have a subtle bittersweet taste balanced with a little acidity.  Its flavour should develop and change, releasing new flavours as it melts, such as floral, fruity or spicy notes.  These will vary according to the blend of cocoa beans and how they’ve been prepared.

Lastly, take note of the finish once you’ve swallowed (or spat out, if at a tasting) the chocolate.  The flavour of a good chocolate can linger for up to 45 minutes! It should continue to develop and have a clean aftertaste.  Any unpleasant taste, residue or puckering indicates that it’s a bad chocolate.

Further chocolate thoughts:

Don’t be misled by the label!

High cocoa percentages are not automatically an indication of good quality, merely a statement of fact, like the percentage of alcohol in a bottle of wine. The quality of the beans and method of production is far more important. However, dark chocolate should contain a minimum 60% cocoa content and milk chocolate a minimum of 30%.

Single estate, single named bean or organic are not necessarily indications of quality. Just as above, it is the skill of selection, treatment and manufacture that really counts for the final quality.

Useful chocolate know-how

The creation of good chocolate is as complex as making a fine wine. There are three main varieties of cocoa beans: strong earthy tasting Forastero, fine flavoured Trinitario and aromatic un-bitter Criollo. Porcelana, for example, is a genetically pure strain of the Criollo bean.  Trinitario and Criollo beans make up a small percentage of world production. However, like vines, the characteristics of each variety are affected as much by the local soil and climate as by how they’re handled and blended.

Traditionally, cocoa pods are split open with a machete and the 40 or so cocoa beans inside are removed with their sugary white mucilage (coating) and left to ferment.  This reduces the acidity and bitterness of the beans and helps develop their aromatic qualities. If this process is badly executed, the resulting chocolate will either taste bitter or lack flavour. 

If they’re dried too quickly or are poorly cleaned the beans will taste acidic and smoky.  Since the majority of beans are sold on the world market, it’s hard for buyers to control the quality of their raw cocoa.  However, there is a small but increasing number of haute couture chocolate companies that buy direct from cocoa growers to ensure the highest possible quality of bean.

If you feel like cooking, go to the chocolate orange cakes in the main index of Cook now – they’re delicious, although I do say so myself.  Choc chip cookies, will also soon be up on the main Cook now page.


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