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Savouring, Slurping, Spitting, and Saliva

Snap, Sniff, Swirl, Savour

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 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, 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 by scratching a bit off and rubbing 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 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.

And what’s all this got to do with salivation?

When you put chocolate in your mouth, its flavours are revealed in two very different ways:

  • Firstly the heat from your mouth and tongue releases many of the flavours and volatiles in the chocolate.
  • Secondly the enzymes in your saliva react with the chocolate to release even more of what are called ‘bonded flavours’.

Chocolate: The Unique Solid which Melts in Your Mouth

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 drop as the flavours hit them.

Saliva and Spitting

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’.

Hopefully this guide to savouring, slurping, spitting, and saliva helps you to better appreciate (and unpick) the complex flavour profiles of craft chocolate. And if you’re looking for some bars to practise on, see some of our highest rated bars:

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