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Taste, Super-tasters, Flavour, Texture, and More

By Nick Saxby  ·  3rd October 2021  ·  News and Announcements, Weekly Blog

Starting this month we have a new regular virtual tasting focused on flavour, taste, super-tasters and more. And you DON’T have to paint your tongue blue (we’ve an easier test)!

We’ve also some great new ‘one-off’ tastings for the rest of this year (some which we think will make great Christmas presents too):

  • We’ve another intriguing set of wine and chocolate pairings with Bex and Ida from Corney & Barrow (see here)
  • Whisky guru Rachel McCormack will be doing a virtual pairing of three whiskies with a bunch of chocolates (see here). 
  • Sunday Brunch’s Simon Rimmer will be cooking up a (craft chocolate) Figgy Pudding and, along with Steve Tapril, showing how to make some great cocktails live on zoom (see here).

And, again, please do join us at Canopy Market from the 15-17th October. We still have some tickets for the tastings and pairings on Friday and Sunday (Saturday is almost completely sold out!). And, we’ve just added a cocktail session with Kate, Alice and Rachel on Friday evening which will be using cacao pulp to make some intriguing combinations. And we are DELIGHTED that the one and only Mikkel Friis Holm will be coming over from Denmark to attend Canopy Market!

Our New Flavour (And Super-taster) Virtual Tasting

If you are puzzled by the above blue tongue image, or interested in taste and flavour and/or enjoy craft chocolate, please do come to our new flavour-focused regular craft chocolate tasting that we are going to hold ‘virtually’ every other Thursday.

We promise not to paint your tongue blue! But we will help you check if you are a “super taster”, and explain why being a super-taster isn’t really that “super”.

Taste is something we perceive via taste buds in our mouth (largely on our tongue) but also in our throat, stomach and even further down. And it covers the sensations of salty, sweet, bitter, sour and (arguably) a few others including umami (like the taste of MSG), kokumi and fattiness (read more about this in Chocopedia).

And as we explore in our regular tasting, taste is VERY different to flavour, astringency and texture; and we’ll explore this in far more depth in our upcoming new virtual tastings. Plus, in this new virtual tasting on Thursdays we’re going to taste 10 different bars from Fresco, Latitude, Zotter (including their butter caramel bar), Pralus and Menakao. And we will discuss and explore:

  • How sugar, flavour and astringency work together, and compare this to how saltiness interacts with other tastes,
  • How roasting and conching chocolate (and food in general) made civilisation possible, and why only humans ‘get’ this (and why “raw chocolate” is nonsense),
  • The way that words and texture can massively affect your experience of chocolate,
  • How food science can create some amazing sensations, but why we need to beware how mass, processed chocolate abuses this,
  • Whether ‘super-tasters’ experience chocolate differently (a world first experiment).

We hope you’ll come away having had a tonne of fun! We also hope that you will discover some new bean origins, inclusions and makers. Plus, in a virtual and interactive way, we hope to offer some more insights in the art and science of craft chocolate farming and making.

As before, we have smaller kits for a single person, or couple, for £19.95 (with taster bars), and then deluxe, or ‘family-size’ kits (with full bars) for £34.95. And we’ll be holding the tasting regularly on every other Thursday at 8pm, UK time.

So what is a ‘super-taster’ (and why does it involve painting your tongue blue)?

If you paint your tongue blue you will be able to see how many fungiform papillae (a.k.a. taste receptors) you have; see the picture above. And this, in turn, may explain how sensitive you are to bitterness (and other tastes).

Way back in the 1930s, chemists and geneticists discovered a simpler way than painting peoples tongues and counting taste receptors to determine taste receptiveness. As with so many taste discoveries, it was the product of an accident. In 1931, a Dupont chemist called Arthur Fox accidentally spilled a chemical powder called PTC (phenylthiocarbamide) and was puzzled when some laboratory technicians violently reacted to the “bitter dust” they could taste whereas others had no reaction. He then worked with Albert Blakesley, a geneticist, to figure out the cause of this peculiarity; and they determined it was at least partially genetic. In the 1960s, another compound, prop (short for propylthiouracil), was discovered by Roland Fischer with similar attributes (this is the one you’ll get to try at our tastings). And then in the 1980s Linda Bartoshuk popularised the term “super-tasters” to describe the approximately 25% of the population who are very sensitive to these chemicals (women are a higher proportion) and differentiated them from the 50-60% of people who are able to detect some bitterness and the 15-25% of the population don’t detect anything from PTC or prop.

Scientists are still debating exactly what gives rise to these differences. They’ve confirmed that this ‘super tasting’ is at least partially related to the presence of a specific bitter-taste-receptor gene (TAS2R38). Indeed, before the likes of 23andMe and other genetic testing services, sensitivity to bitterness was one tool often use to detect family genetics. But there also appear to be some environmental factors too.

…and what does being a super-taster mean?

Scientists also debate the evolutionary advantages of being a super-taster and being more sensitive to bitterness. One possible advantage from a historical and evolutionary perspective is that many poisons and toxins are very alkaloid and therefore very bitter. But that’s hard to prove.

In the modern world there a range of pros and cons which are associated with being a supertaster: If you are a supertaster, you may struggle with some bitter green vegetables that are actually very good for you. You may also not enjoy some alcohols. And (good news), you may be less likely to enjoy smoking. You may also enjoy sweetness in various foods, although this is NOT about having a sweet tooth or being addicted to sugar.

It’s also important to note that we all have a lot of different taste receptors. The super-taster tests using prop and PTC test one specific bitter taste receptor. And for bitterness alone we have over 35 receptor types, and they aren’t just on our tongues (they are in our guts, reproductive organs, thyroid glands, etc.). So you may also be highly sensitive to other bitter, and indeed other tastes, too, but we don’t yet have many simple tests for this.

In the world of wine, much work has been done on how being a super-taster impacts your ability to taste wine and your wine preferences. To date the results have been unclear or not that illuminating. For example; there are various reports that suggest supertasters avoid tannic red wines because they may be too bitter, but this seems a bit simplistic and may confuse astringency and bitterness.

Super-tasting and Chocolate

As far as we know, no-one has ever carried out research on how super-tasters react to different chocolates. So we’d like to see if our new virtual tastings can (anonymously) detect any preferences or trends relating to different roasts, conches, milks and percentages in craft chocolates.

We plan to use menti.com (our interactive tool, so you can share your feedback with one another in real time on the screen even if you aren’t presenting) and some surveys.

Spoiler alert: We don’t think that appreciation of craft chocolate is really about how sweet or bitter a chocolate is. We suspect it’s more about the way that the farmer and maker have coaxed out different flavours from their beans. But perhaps you’ll help us with a new scientific discovery and breakthrough. So we’d LOVE your help to do some live research on this. And we can promise the opportunity to try some really great craft chocolates. And no blue tongues!

We really look forward to seeing you at one of these virtual tastings and also at Canopy Market in London (and if you can’t make it, you can register HERE for post-show videos and info).

Spencer

P.S. Bronwen Percival of Neal’s Yard Dairy did a fantastic comparison of artisan cheese and craft chocolate earlier this week. If you missed it; and even though you may not have the chocolate; there is a recording available on our YouTube channel.

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