Next week we are TWICE getting together with Rachel Khoo; foodie and chef extraordinaire, to discuss (and savour) craft chocolate.
We’ll be trying six different chocolates together with you and using these to illustrate everything from her Parisian adventures to her latest TV programme (see here and below for more details). Whilst savouring these bars with Rachel, we will explore how you can savour craft chocolate in some slightly odd ways, including spitting out some craft chocolate after you’ve allowed it to melt and chewed it a bit.
Even if you can’t join either of these events with Rachel, we’d still invite you to chew, and then spit out a small part of your next craft chocolate bar. Please read on below for the logic and science behind this.
As we’ve learnt through our virtual tastings with wine and coffee experts, the first step to savour a wine or coffee is to ‘sniff’ and then to ‘slurp’. A HUGE variety of aromas and flavours immediately emerge as you sniff (otherwise known as orthonasal olfaction). Then, when you slurp, a whole load of new flavours, tastes and sensations are revealed. And yes it is definitely worth slurping air over the coffee and wine (for a FANTASTIC example of how to do this, please see the Japanese movie Tampopo which demonstrates this for both wine and ramen, see the picture above and video below).
Whilst in your mouth, the flavours here are detected by what is called retronasal olfaction (i.e. the flavours and aromas are detected by your olfactory bulb via the back of your mouth). At the same time, tastes are detected by receptors all over your tongue and mouth (and down to your gut, and possibly even further). Plus various sensations are felt by other nerves and via chemical reactions in your mouth (for example, we immediately detect texture or bubbles, and then tannins in wine, coffee and chocolate dry out your mouth (astringency) via chemesthesis).
Chocolate savouring is a bit different. We recommend first looking at the chocolate, and then ‘snapping’ it, then you can try to sniff. But, unless the chocolate has melted a bit, it’s hard to get much smell (orthonasal olfaction). If you heat the chocolate (scratch a bit off and rub it between your fingers), some flavour aromas and smells (volatiles) can be released. The real delight with chocolate happens once you put it in your mouth and the chocolate starts to melt. Wait for a few moments, and then the world starts to pop as the flavours emerge from the melting, masticated chocolate. Note: this assumes that the chocolate has a good snap – ie it’s properly ‘tempered’ so it will melt. If you’ve stored your chocolate in the fridge, or left it out in the sun etc., it may well have ‘badly tempered’ to crystal structure 6 which won’t melt in your mouth (but it’s fine for cooking with…). Read about this elsewhere on our blog.
If you’ve ever had the (mis)fortune to try a cacao seed straight from a cocoa pod you’ll know the sensation is a million miles away from chocolate. A fresh cacao seed is incredibly bitter tasting and astringent. It has none of the flavours, or mouthfeel, of chocolate. It’s not pleasant. Indeed, it’s amazing to think that chocolate bars come from these bitter, astringent seeds.
But through the magic of fermentation, drying, roasting, grinding, conching and then tempering, these seeds are transformed into chocolate. Each of these steps breaks down and transforms the cocoa into its constituent amino acids, sugars and pyrazines. And the end result is CHOCOLATE, with myriads of flavours, tastes, textures and pleasures.
And here is a high level overview of how each step from bean to bar impacts flavour:
Cocoa Bean Varieties
Grinding and Conching
Note: this list is an overview only; it leaves out the impact of adding milk, ageing bars, and much more.
When you put chocolate in your mouth, its flavours are revealed in two very different ways:
To illustrate the way heat reveals chocolate’s flavours just try holding your nose and popping a morsel of chocolate in your mouth. Wait for 10 seconds and then release your nose, and breath in through your mouth.
As you release your nose, you allow your olfactory system (sense of smell) to start working again, and because the chocolate has now melted, a wave of flavours should bombard you.
As anyone who has been to a virtual craft chocolate tasting will attest, this is quite easy to do (you will NOT suffocate!), and it’s fun to watch people’s jaws literally drop as the flavours hit them.
The saliva in your mouth has a set of magic to perform on chocolate (and other foods and wines).
For the last couple of decades, more and more work has been done to understand the process by which when we cook foods we ‘bind in’ flavours and aromas that we can later release through microbes in our saliva. Arguably the first industry to really work this out was the wine industry, where back in the 1980s, the wine chemist Emile Peynaud noted how wines “smell more of the flavour of the fruit than the grapes themselves”. He went on to describe how saliva amplifies and catalyses flavours: “saliva reacts with and releases the (herbaceous .. bruised leaves) in Sauvignon which is present in the grapes in a relatively odorless form”.
And this is what happens when we savour chocolate. As anyone who has ever savoured craft chocolate can attest, the flavours just keep evolving. This is more than simply melting the chocolate to release flavour volatiles, it’s because you need to allow more time for your saliva to break down these ‘bound volatiles’ (created by fermenting, roasting and grinding the cocoa), and ‘liberate’ them for your olfactory bulb.
There is a simple trick to illustrate the power of saliva’s microbes: Chew some chocolate in your mouth for ten to twenty seconds. Then spit it all out. Wait for another ten to twenty seconds and you should be able to detect a whole load of new flavours. Even though you’ve spat out the chocolate, the microbes in your mouth will continue to release aromas and flavour volatiles from the chocolate you’ve spat out. Note: you can do the same by swallowing the chocolate, but it’s not quite so graphic an example of ‘saliva in action’.
As anyone who has been to a virtual tasting will know, the first thing we do at a craft chocolate tasting is have you hold your nose when trying a piece of chocolate. This is a pretty fast way to explain the difference between taste and flavour, and how melting releases some of the flavours in chocolate.
Then we present a “Flavour Wave” which we developed along with Professor Barry Smith (philosopher and more), James Hoffman (coffee expert) and Rebecca Palmer (wine expert). The wave helps in a number of ways, including the impact of saliva.
Please see here for a downloadable PDF of the wave.
One final thought. As lockdown continues to ease, and the weather continues to improve, and as we look forward to Mayday bank holiday here in the UK, more and more people are enjoying barbecues, picnics, beer gardens and the like. Please do consider bringing along a couple of craft chocolate bars to these festivities. Bars are very portable and great for sharing! And you can show off your credentials as you snap, savour and (sometimes) spit.
Please see below for a few more pairs of bars that we’ve selected to go with a smokey barbecue (smokey bars from New Zealand), picnics (some all time favourites) and some ones for the beer garden (a couple of fruity numbers).