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An Experiment (and Treat) for Halloween

Officially the clocks go back this weekend here in the UK.  We are between Summer and Winter solstices.  And according to many, it’s the start of winter. Plus it’s Halloween this weekend!

So, we’d like to invite you to kick off the winter tradition of drinking hot chocolate, with a twist, using the colours of Halloween.

The importance of visual, textural, and auditory cues in our appreciation of food and drink is well known. There have been multiple studies where unwitting wine experts are confounded by the ‘game’ of colouring white wine red. Similarly, many foodies have been fooled into believing that stale crisps are fresh when they are played crunchy sounds. There is a whole science dedicated to what is called ‘soma sensory’ and ‘cross modal’ impressions of flavour and taste. There are plenty of fun examples; one personal favourite is Professor Barry Smith’s description of the sound engineering used to create ‘freshness’ in fizzy drinks.

Back almost a decade ago, Betina Piqueras-Fisman and Charles Spence performed an intriguing study on how the colour of a cup impacted people’s perception of sweetness and flavour in drinking hot chocolate. And given that they specifically used orange (as well as black and white cups) we thought it would be fun to use any of those spooky Halloween black or orange cups, along with any cream or white ones, to replicate their study. The idea is that we associate certain colours with specific tastes and flavours, for example; orange enhances our appreciation of some flavours (like chocolate). Although the exact mechanics are unclear, it’s intriguing to explore how different textures, sounds, and colours do change our appreciation of different foods and drinks. And for this experiment, we’re specifically intrigued to know whether you too find that: 

“Orange (with a white interior) and dark-cream colored cups enhanced the chocolate flavor of the drink… By contrast, sweetness and chocolate aroma were less influenced by the color of the cup, but the results still showed that the hot chocolate, when consumed from the dark-cream cup, was rated as sweeter and its aroma more intense”

Please can you record your impressions HERE (for the chance to win some more craft chocolate from both Original Beans and Menakao)?

Even if you don’t have any leftover orange cups, can we still recommend that, now the nights are coming earlier, and the temperatures are starting to drop, you consider making some craft chocolate to drink? We’ve some great options from Menakao and Original Beans.  We’ve also some great recipes, and a fun video from Prufrock Barista superstar Ewelina Kania, showing you how a pro does it (and why it’s easy to do that at home too) see HERE

If you want to know more about the history of drinking chocolate, come to a virtual tasting where you might discover:

  • The first drinking chocolate can be dated over 5,500 years ago in Santa Anna, Ecuador (sorry Mexico!),
  • Why one of the first descriptions by the conquistadors of Montezuma’s court of him consuming “the froth of fifty cups of drinking chocolate” may have kickstarted all the other misapprehensions about chocolate as an aphrodisiac (see HERE for more),
  • How the Jesuits used ‘influencer marketing’ with the support of the Papacy to launch drinking chocolate (it was used as means to ward off peckishness on fasting days in the 16th and 17th century),
  • How the Boston Tea Party could (perhaps) have been averted had Benjamin Franklin achieved his ambition of making drinking chocolate the preferred beverage in 18th Century North America,
  • Why the 18th and 19th century Dutch believed that drinking hot chocolate messed up their beards in the winter, indirectly leading to the launch of chocolate bars (until the late 19th century, chocolate was always drunk; chocolate bars have been around for less than 200 years),
  • Why even though drinking chocolate contains the stimulant theobromine (and small amounts of caffeine) it’s still fine to drink before bed,
  • Why drinking craft chocolate tastes so much better, and is so much better for the farmers, planet, and your health (hint: A cup of some mass produced drinking chocolate contains the same amount of salt as a cup of seawater!)

Anyhow; Happy Halloween! And do put those Halloween colours to some scientific testing; let us know how you get on HERE! (And if you missed last week’s email on Halloween, it’s HERE, and our Halloween boxes are still available HERE).

Even if you don’t have any leftover orange cups to hand, now that winter is here, do start to enjoy the delights of drinking craft chocolate. I for one will be taking a flask of hot chocolate for my Halloween swim in the Hampstead ponds (now down to 12 degrees; so definitely a ‘treat’)!

As ever, thanks for your support!


P.S. Kathryn Laverack launched her wonderful idea of pairing craft chocolate with books at Canopy Market the other week, to HUGE enthusiasm. You can see what it’s all about HERE, and her first pairing is now live HERE.

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Treats for Halloween (with No Tricks)

red orange moon on a black background

What is associated with the colour orange (and increasingly black, purple and even green), celebrated on the 31st October, emerged out of “guising”, “mumming” and “souling”, is second only to Christmas as a commercial holiday (in the US alone $6bn is apparently spent), and one where over 20% of millennials are now dressing up their pets in themed costumes?

The answer of course is Halloween. And now lockdown is over, we are looking forward to some “trick or treating” (or if you are in the US, you may be “tailgating or treating” so that kids don’t have too walk so far).

Try as we might, it’s not easy to find links between craft chocolate and Halloween. Nonetheless as a Halloween ‘treat’ we have assembled two great gifting boxes and a set of bars that are coloured, orange, black or purple. Please find them below.

Even though we’ve not found any links between craft chocolate and Halloween, we’ve had some fun researching Halloween and its traditions for you to contemplate as you savour these bars. Here’s the questions we tried to explore:

  1. Why is Halloween associated with the colours orange, black and purple? (Spoiler alert: Orange and black are what you’d expect, purple is a little less clear).
  2. When, and where, did the word “Halloween” come from? (Hint: A “thank you” to Scotland and Robert Burns, but the origins, are far older).
  3. Why do we ‘trick or treat’ on Halloween? (Again, it’s not clear, but it appears to be related to “souling”, “mumning” and “guising”).

Any which way, we hope you enjoy our range of Halloween inspired craft chocolate treats. Please purchase by Wednesday 27th October and choose Royal Mail 24 hour tracked delivery to make sure that they arrive on time (assuming you are in the UK).


The word “Halloween” can be dated back to the early 18th Century Scotland. And the publication of Robert Burns’ poem ‘Halloween’ in 1785 catapulted the term into general usage.

Literally the word “Hallowe’en” means “Saints’ evening” and is the Scottish term for All Hallows’ Eve (the evening before All Hallows’ Day), with the Scots changing “eve” to “e’en” or “een”.

At the same time, Halloween has been celebrated in a range of forms far earlier, with various traditions going back even further. For example, the phrase “All Hallows'” is found in Old English; “All Hallows’ Eve” as early as 1556. And Shakespeare includes “souling” (the custom of baking and sharing soul cakes, which is one of the precursors of “trick or treating”) in his play The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Origins and History

Whilst the term Halloween is credited to the Scots, credit for the origins and customs of Halloween needs to be shared more widely across the Celts of Wales, Ireland, Brittany, Cornwall and Scotland. Each of these Celtic peoples used different names for what became Halloween; Samhain in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, Calan Gaeaf in Wales, Kalan Gwav in Cornwall and Kalan Goañv in Brittany. In all cases the term meant the same; “first day of winter”; half way between Summer and Winter equinoxes. And the festival was used firstly to entreat the gods, fairies and spirits (the Aos Si) for their support during the winter months, and secondly to offer succour to the souls of the deceased. As part of the prayers and celebration, offerings of food and drink left were left outside the house, or even extra places in the meal were set.

As with a few other festivals, Christianity appears to have subsumed this festival. The early Christian festivals for many Saints and martyrs were mainly during the spring time. However, in the late 8th Century, Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV pulled these festivals together into “AllHallowtide” to “honour the Saints of the Church and pray for the recently deceased”. AllHallowtide spans three days; All Hallows’ Day (also known as All Saints) on the 1st November, All Soul’s Day on the 2nd November, and All Hallows Eve on the 31st October. Today such actions would run the risk of accusations of ‘cultural appropriation’. But as the Church was trying to convert the Celtic tribes, it clearly made sense to leverage the festivals and practises of Samhain, Calan/Kalan etc. And it clearly worked!

Customs and Traditions

Samhain, Calan Gaea, Kalan Gwav and Kalan Goañv all involved food offerings and prayers.  And it’s not hard to see how these food evenings merged and morphed into “souling”, “guising” and “mumming” which then became ‘trick or treating’. 

As early as the 15th century there are records of poor folk promising to pray and sing for the souls of their richer neighbours in return for “soul cakes” on all Hallows Eve. Indeed, the custom still exists in various parts of the world; for example, in the Philippines they have a custom called Pangangaluwa where kids drape themselves in white cloths on All Hallow’s Eve and visit neighbours, sing and ask for prayers and sweets.

A similar 15th and 16th centuries practice of singing and praying, this time in fancy dress, can be found in Germany, Scandinavia and other parts of Norther Europe and was known as “mumming”. Scotland developed a similar practice called “guising” at the same time, and added in the practise of carrying turnip lanterns late 19th century.

19th century immigrants to North America brought these traditions with them to Canada and the US. As far back as 1911, the practise of “guising” was reported in Kingston Ontario (Canada). And over the next decades guising gradually morphed into trick or treating during the 1930s, with the term “trick or treating” first appearing in 1934. And instead of turnips, Americans appropriated pumpkins to place the candle (or more accurately coal) in their “Jack O’ Lanterns”.

All sorts of other customs and traditions have also been added, many borrowed from other nearby festivals (e.g. caramel and toffee apples from Bonfire night in the UK). And the practise of lighting candles to pray for the dead  incorporated into pumpkins and turnips via an Irish legend of ‘Jack’ tricking the devil out of a lump of hot coal to help him survive the cold of the limbo between heaven and hell.

Increasingly, Halloween has been commercialised and evolved in some peculiar directions. The US now has “trunk-or-treat” parties to keep kids safe and handle the logistics of American suburbs where houses can be miles apart.  Halloween has become a huge card giving market, and even pets are now dressed up as part of the massive the Halloween commercial opportunity.

To date however craft chocolate has not found a way into guising, souling, mumming or even “trick or treating”. To address this we’ve pulled together bars in orange, black and purple for you to make your own traditions.  And we’ve also two great gift boxes (see HERE for the smaller box, and HERE for the larger box).

Please purchase by Wednesday 27th October and choose Royal Mail 24 hour tracked delivery to make sure that they arrive on time (assuming you are in the UK).

Happy treats, guising, souling and mumming!


P.S. A huge thanks to all of you who made it up to our craft chocolate takeover at Canopy Market, Kings Cross last weekend; we were blown away by your enthusiasm and support! So yes, we will be doing another set of tastings and talks (you can mark your diaries: December 10th-12th). Sadly, we can’t assemble all the makers again, but we’ve some great other talks and activities. And in the meantime, we are editing all the videos of the tastings from the weekend to share with anyone who couldn’t make it.

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Creators, Curators, Connoisseurs

What’s the link between the following?

The link (hopefully) is that all the above help customers discover great new experiences, ideas, music, flavours, etc.

To give it a ‘fancy’ title, they are all ‘curators’.

(Side note: the term curator is relatively recent.  In the UK it was only in the 1950s that the Arts Council started working with the Tate on “curated temporary artist exhibitions”. And quite how the word ‘curator’ etymologically morphed from a title applied to members of the Anglican clergy (curates) to ‘curators’ caring for art works, to someone designing temporary themed art exhibitions isn’t at all obvious).

In all these cases a curator takes us on a journey, tells us a story, opens us up to intriguing sounds, materials, foods, drinks, etc.  

And this journey is very different from the normal web ‘spear fishing’ experience where you know, and select, what you want via ‘search’. Most internet shopping, and indeed many web based activities, are seeking out specific solutions; for example:

  • Figuring out how to get to a place/location,
  • Seeking out the answer to a question,
  • Purchasing a product you already want,
  • Listening to a favourite track,
  • Watching a movie, or TV series.

You know what you want. You type (or increasingly speak) into a device, type or ask a question and scroll through a few different answers.

Curation is different. You put yourself in someone else’s hands. You trust curators to enthuse and delight you with stuff you couldn’t easily search, and find, on your own.

It’s about going on a journey more than executing a transaction. It’s going to an art show or exhibition rather than visiting a museum’s permanent collection and looking at a host of disparate paintings. It’s listening to a playlist rather than a specific (or even random) song.

You are trusting someone (and possibly something (see below)) to ‘take care’ over what you see, eat, read, hear, etc.

And for almost 7 years you’ve been trusting Cocoa Runners to take care of your chocolate needs with our monthly discovery boxes (indeed for just over 50 of you who’ve been with us from the start, you will soon get your 100th box! …January, if you are wondering…).

So thank you for your support and letting us try to be craft chocolate curators (or as we normally refer to it, “chocolate DJs”; a title which has a longer pedigree, and is more appropriate for our music backgrounds; read on to learn more).

This week’s blog entry was prompted by a podcast request by one of the great places to discover curators on the web; Flipboard. So thank you Flipboard! We will post the link when it is broadcast.

And this post is also an attempt to answer the question as to why we set up Cocoa Runners, explaining why we think DJing and discovery is so important for craft chocolate (and music, wine, cheese, and more).

The Background to Cocoa Runners

In addition to our music experience, Simon and I also were (relatively) early e-commerce veterans. Back in the last century (i.e. 1999), Simon was at and then John Lewis, and I was setting up Amazon’s Software, Video Games, Electronics and Toy Stores “this side of the pond” in the UK, France and Germany. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, home internet speeds were slow, and often crashed. Browsing wasn’t really feasible. So most shopping was done via searching for what you already knew you wanted to purchase. The huge catalogues of books, video games, etc. also made ‘long tail search’ the natural play for early e-commerce sites (in those days discounting was still a novelty, and for some categories, such as books in Germany, not allowed).

And then in the late 2000s, with the emergence of Google, search also became the most economic way to ‘acquire’ customers. Google found a way to turn the practise of ‘classified ads’ into a multi-billion dollar business by helping consumers search for products, services, holidays, and just about anything, and then connect them with appropriate e-tailers, travel companies, banks, etc.

So whereas the secret to physical retail is (was?) “LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION”, then the secret of e-commerce is “SEARCH, SEARCH, SEARCH”.

In these ‘transactional’ or ‘search based’ e-commerce categories it’s REALLY hard to beat Amazon. For many product categories it’s Amazon, not Google, where customers start their shopping search. Plus Amazon has now built a bunch of other advantages, like Prime free shipping, “encouraging” third party retailers to compete on price (and hence help customers get lower prices), etc.

Despite these challenges, Simon and I were convinced that e-commerce offers massive opportunities… as long as you didn’t try to compete head on with Amazon. And we both liked chocolate. And we thought that craft chocolate, which was just starting up at this time, presented an opportunity.

Buying craft chocolate is rarely a premeditated purchase where the customer already knows what they want. Buying a craft chocolate bar isn’t like buying a book or new video game. It’s more like buying a plant for your garden; it really helps to have some advice. It doesn’t lend itself to ‘search’.

Plus, the craft chocolate revolution was just starting, and we hoped it would follow the path of speciality coffee, craft gin, artisan breads, etc. When we launched Cocoa Runners, there were only two UK based craft chocolate makers; Duffy’s and Willie’s; although they were soon joined by Pump Street, Forever Cacao, Solkiki etc., and now there are over 100. And craft chocolate was (and still is) hard to both find on the high street. At the same time, chocolate bars are relatively easy to ship (four bars fit through most letterboxes).

So Simon and I launched Cocoa Runners as a subscription service where we’d send customers, every month, four of the very best craft chocolate bars we could source. We also offered tasting notes and the history of each maker (and now have video chats too). And we made a rash “no repeat” promise for these boxes (which we still keep for the ‘mixed’ and ‘dark only’ boxes, but sadly isn’t feasible for the 100% or milk boxes).

Fairly quickly customers told us they wanted more than the curated monthly delivery box. And our customers weren’t just in the UK. Plus you wanted more of the stories behind the bars, the makers and the growers. You wanted to be able to purchase individual bars (and later, cooking chocolate, truffles, etc.). You wanted to be able to gift boxes for different occasions. And they wanted more discovery tools. You wanted pairings. You wanted tastings and events. And we are trying to do all of these.

But the bedrock is the same; careful selection and curation in our monthly boxes.

And the goal is the same: Helping you delight in chocolate that tastes better, is better for you, better for farmers and better for the planet (come to a tasting to find out more!).

So how do we select and curate?

To offer our curated service we first had to define what we meant by “craft chocolate”, and explain why this was important (it tastes better, is better for you, it’s better for farmers and better for the planet).

Then we had to set a quality bar to make sure that customers would be DELIGHTED with any craft chocolate bar from our library.

And finally we had to find you; i.e. discerning customers; and offer you some curated services and products which we could deliver online and in person.

Towards a Definition of Craft Chocolate

Unlike, for example, speciality coffee or craft beer, there is no definition, or set of standards, laying out what ‘craft chocolate is. So, along with various educators, judges, makers and growers, we’ve evolved a set of criteria including the following (note: this is still an ongoing work in progress):

  • The aim is to reveal the myriad of flavours, tastes and textures from great cocoa beans. It’s not about additives, flavour inclusions, crunchy bits, bliss points, etc.
  • This in turn means focusing first on the source of the bean; knowing where it comes from, similar to the way specialty coffee describes the farm or co-operative, and the way any good wine will tell you its appellation, estate, etc. Naming a country, or even a county, doesn’t count for chocolate any more than it works for specialty coffee, fine wine, artisan cheese, etc.
  • And then we want to know where, and how, the chocolate is crafted. We insist on ‘whole bean roasting‘ (and crafting) in small batches. 99%+ of chocolate isn’t whole bean roasted. Mass produced chocolate is ‘nib roasted’. This is more efficient, but it doesn’t bring out the full flavour potential. And also please remember that most chocolate “makers” don’t start with beans; rather, they purchase ready made blocks of chocolate that they then remould (come to a tasting for more on the similarities here to chicken nuggets).
  • And we also insist on avoiding additives, stabilisers, preservatives, vegetable fats, excessive use of sugar etc. in the ingredients of the bar. Inclusions and flavours are fine if they are about revealing, rather than obscuring (or covering up defects), in the flavour of the bean. And these ingredients should be ones you have at home, and your grandmother would recognise.

And that’s why on our bar pages, we always detail firstly where, and how, the bean is sourced. Secondly we list where it’s made (it’s very different to mass chocolate where you’d have to list both where it’s processed into couverture and assembled). Thirdly, we list all the ingredients (this is also a legal requirement). We also try to unwrap the stories behind the makers and growers. And we’re trying to give more information on other ingredients, growing processes, and crafting approaches (roasts, conching etc. Join our new Flavour, Taste and Super Tasting sessions for more).

Raising the Bar: Quality

To promote craft chocolate, we also believe that it’s critical that any of the 1000-plus bars we supply at Cocoa Runners will delight and “wow”. As you can tell from the reviews; we don’t always please everyone. We have a lot of bars that can be divisive (see the reactions to 100% chocolates, white bars, the texture of Taza chocolate, etc.). But we really are trying to list bars that are exceptional.

The team tastes over 2500 bars a year. This sounds like a great job! And it is! But of these 2000+ bars, less than 10% (i.e. around 200) are choosen to add to our chocolate library. And less than 2% (80) will be added to a milk, mixed, dark or 100% subscription box (some will go first to the library and then a box).  

On the flip side, some of the bars we taste, sadly, have a lot of ‘room for improvement’. The risk here is clear; if a newbie to craft chocolate tries a £4, £5 or even more expensive bar, and doesn’t like it, this is a huge problem (we’ve a similar problem if a customer who loves milk chocolate purchases by accident a 100% bar, but that we can solve this in other ways).

We come in for quite a lot of criticism and “stick” here.

We fully accept that tasting is inherently subjective. And we are constantly striving to improve, and we want to “raise the bar” in terms of quality.

We do this by working with people who have a lot more experience than us, in and out of the chocolate world.

In the world of chocolate, we have learnt a lot from many chocolate makers and growers; Duffy, Bryan & Dahlia Graham, Mikkel Friis-Holm, Martyn O’Dare, Chris Brennan, Bertil Åkesson etc. about how to taste. Similarly, we’ve learned a tonne from Martin Christie and his team at the International Chocolate Awards, and Sylvia, Clive and the team at the Academy of Chocolate, plus experts/friends such as Jenn, Dom, Kate etc. And my apologies if we’ve left anyone out!

We’ve also tried to learn from other industries; especially coffee, wine and tea. In particular, we were fortunate to run a workshop with James Hoffmann (World Barista Champion and co-founder of Square Mile), Rebecca Palmer (Associate Director and Buyer at Corney & Barrow; wine merchants to the Royal Family) and Professor Barry Smith. If you’ve ever been to a virtual tasting, you’ll have experienced their insights through exploring ‘the flavour wave’.

And the flavour wave approach really helps us figure out if a bar is exceptional; we want to see not just the upfront melt and initial flavours, tastes and textures. We also want the bar to have balance, length and complexity that make it one you want to savour. We want every bar to wow and delight. We don’t want to disappoint.

Curating the Bars and Experiences

Once we’ve selected these bars, we then want to help customers find bars that they will savour, enjoy, delight and (at least some of the time) be completely blown away by (at least once a month we hope!).

We started with the relatively simple “DJed boxes”. And these still are a BRILLIANT way for any customer (including makers and growers) to receive a monthly box of great new bars that 99% of customers won’t have tried, or most of the time, even heard of. And these boxes are supplemented with tasting notes (and videos) that unwrap the stories behind bars, beans, makers and growers.

And we’ve now a range of other offerings and services (and if you’d like others, please do get in touch, or comment below); they are listed out below:

  • Events and talks where we in person, or virtually, hold interactive sessions on subjects including:
  • Fairs; like the one at Canopy Market, where we’ve pulled together over a dozen great makers (both of bars and filled chocolates) and a programme of talks, tastings, etc. (and we’re planning more of these!).
  • Pairings with wine, coffee and whisky, where again we offer both tastings and curated boxes (with notes, and tastings).
  • ‘Automated’ tools to help you find other bars (think recommendations, or the book recommendations at Amazon):
    • For each bar we sell, (thanks to the amazing Gavin) we match our flavour descriptions and a few other details to suggest similar bars.
    • You can sort and browse via bean type, percentage, origin, maker, etc.
    • Strictly speaking, while these lists are not curated by hand, the themes and narratives here are set by us (and not some advanced artificial intelligence).
  • And then, using similar approaches, we have a ‘taste test‘ where you as a customer can tell us what sort of foods, textures, drinks etc. you like, and we use this to select a set of four bars that we hope will be a great introduction to craft chocolate.
  • We’re also working on a few other discovery and curation tools, and will be talking more about these in upcoming emails and blogposts:


Thanks for bearing with us on this VERY long post. But we hope that our “curation” now makes a bit more sense, and you can see how we strive to help customers become fans (and if they want to use the word “connoisseurs”) of the amazing chocolate creations of those growers and makers we work with.

As ever, thanks for your support.


P.S. Sorry for missing Canadian Thanks Giving! But for some amazing Canadian bars see HERE (and please read our article in praise of Canada’s other achievements too).

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

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 (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).


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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White chocolate …REALLY?

white chocolate cartoon

White chocolate is, to put it mildly, divisive. Some love it. Some disdain it. Some even challenge if it merits being called “chocolate”!

We’re going to put this to the test as we taste three classic white chocolate bars with Tim Lovejoy, Simon Rimmer and guests on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch at 11am UK time this Sunday Morning (19th September). So please do tune in and watch. And we’ve pulled together a ‘taster box’ of the three bars we are tasting so you can see what all the fuss is about.

Plus we’ve used this occasion to do a quick deep dive to review the history and complexities of white chocolate (one of the first bars was sold as a kids multivitamin bar).

The History of White Chocolate and Vitamin Supplements

Nestle’s website argues that they “invented” commercial white chocolate with their launch of the Milkybar back in 1936. The Milkybar was a smart repackaging of Nestrovit, a kids health product launched a few years earlier and described as “a vitamin-enriched condensed milk for children that used cocoa butter to make it into an easy to eat bar”. With hindsight, the only surprise is that it took almost five years for Nestle to realise Nestrovit’s commercial potential. Since then, with a longish hiatus from 1940 to 1961 due to rationing and wartime shortages, it’s been a “best seller”, turbocharged by the Milkybar kids ads (started in 1951).

Nestle’s claim to have commercially launched the “white chocolate category” is hard to argue. And the flagship product it is still going strong; Nestle alone sells over 1.9 billion white Milkybar buttons in the UK per annum.

But quite how, and when, anyone first worked out how to make white chocolate is up for debate. White chocolate was almost certainly around before the launch of Milkybars in 1936 (or Nestrovit in 1929) and may well owe it’s genesis to BEARDS. In the early 19th century the Dutch were concerned about cocoa butter globules being left in their beards after they drank their hot chocolate (cocoa butter has many wonderful features, but it does not dissolve well into water, or milk, and will rapidly congeal, making a mess if any is left in a beard etc.). To avoid this unfortunate mess, a father and son team, the Van Houtens, came up with a machine to press cocoa beans and squeeze out much of the cocoa butter. This enabled the fashion conscious Dutch to drink their hot chocolate with less cocoa butter to become stuck in their beards (come to a virtual tasting to hear more).

The excess cocoa butter generated by these cocoa presses spawned various inventions and ideas. From the perspective of chocolate history, arguably the most important invention was Joseph Fry’s stone ground, stable chocolate bar in 1847 (again come to a virtual tasting for more details). At the same time, cocoa butter’s multiple wonderous properties; including smoothness, shelf life, safety, melting point and flavour absorption; were seized upon by cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies. Indeed a huge amount of cocoa butter never goes into chocolate, instead, it’s the active ingredient in all sorts of lotions, lipsticks, creams, etc. (and much of the time the pressed cocoa mass is a far less valuable by-product, sold off as a commodity to be used for cakes, biscuits, cereals, ice creams, etc.).

Fortunately for white chocolate lovers, some cocoa butter was also used to make white chocolate. There are various recipes dating back to the 1870s of how to make white chocolate, and it’s mentioned in a 1923 Food Encyclopedia. But it was Nestle’s Nestrovit and Milkybar that really created the white chocolate boom.

What is Craft White Chocolate?

White chocolate is defined (with a few subtle differences) in the US, EU and UK as being made from at least 20% cocoa butter and over 14% milk (powder).

It then gets very messy as lots of different ‘stuff’ can be added, and so, as ever, reading the ingredients list is critical to identify what is really mass produced, ultra-processed white chocolate, as opposed to craft chocolate.

The good news is that over the last few years, more and more craft chocolate makers have started to explore the potential of white craft chocolate. As ever, they are very conscious of the source of the cocoa butter, and equally careful about the other ingredients too. And they’ve explored multiple permutations:

One other intriguing issue occurs with plant based ‘mylk’ white chocolates, as these, similar to milk chocolate, face the challenge of not using “milk from a lactating animal” (the EU definition to use the word milk, and to count as “white chocolate”). Expect to see terms like “whyte” or “wh!te” in future. For now, enjoy the wonderful whyte flavours bars of Karuna.

Divisions with Craft Chocolate

More and more craft chocolate makers are now pressing their own cocoa butter. In the US both Goodnow and Askinosie have presses. And in the UK, Chocolarder, Pump Street and Willie’s also make their own cocoa butter. Franck Morin has repaired a historic cocoa press in Donzère, in the South of France. However these makers are still the exception rather than the rule. Crafting chocolate is already hard without adding yet another process step. After all, no craft chocolate maker has their own cows to make their own milk (as far as I know). Instead, craft chocolate makers purchase organic and transparently traded cacao butter to add to their standard bars and make white chocolate.

There are also debates as to the benefits of “natural” or “deodorised” cocoa butter. Cocoa butter does have a smell, similar to cocoa mass, and this can be removed through injecting steam to remove the aromas and volatiles. This unfortunately removes some of cocoa butter’s antioxidant properties. But it does make it easier to use in cosmetics and most of the cocoa butter used for mass produced chocolates is also deodorised so as other additives, aromas and ingredients can more easily be applied.

What About Mass-Produced White Chocolates?

In addition to trying to check whether deodorised cocoa butter is added, you REALLY REALLY need to read the ingredients with mass produced white chocolate and confectionery. To be called “white chocolate”, a product must have 20% cocoa butter and 14% milk. Various unscrupulous makers will therefore confuse by using titles like “white choccy” or “chocolite” and not meet these minimum cocoa butter percentages. Others will meet these minimum standards, and then add all sorts of other stuff. A quick review of 5 well known brands yielded the following:

  • Vegetable fats,
  • Palm oil,
  • Low erucic rapeseed oil,
  • Corn syrup solids,
  • PGPR (polyglycerol polyricinoleate) from castor oil,
  • Mango kernel,
  • Tocopherols,
  • Whey powder,
  • Shea butter,
  • Vanilla flavouring (or vanillin),
  • Soya lecithin.

And beware the amount of sugar! With craft chocolate bars, both milks and white bars very rarely will there be more than 30% sugar (e.g. Mikkel Friis Holm’s white bar is 40% cocoa, 30% milk, and 30% sugar; so even if you could eat a whole 100g bar in one sitting, it’s still less sugar than a portion of many breakfast cereals, or half a can of coke). By contrast, a Dairy Milk and Milkybar are respectively over 56% and 53% sugar, and are designed to be scoffed in one sitting.

A Nod to the Critics of White Chocolate

A cocoa bean (depending on the varietal) will be between 52-57% cocoa butter and 48-43% cocoa solids. So claiming that white chocolate isn’t really chocolate seems a bit unfair; it’d be like arguing dried mango isn’t mango as it doesn’t contain mango juice and water. They are different. But the key issue is what is taken away… and what else is added. So again, please read the ingredients.

Having said this, many of the health benefits, and much of the flavour, in dark chocolate does come from the cocoa solids. Cocoa solids contain hundreds of different chemical compounds including aldehydes, ketones, esters, pyrazines, alcohols, carboxylic acids and more. These compounds give dark chocolate its complex aromas (for example, the ester phenethyl acetate has aromas of honey, ketone acetoin of butter and cream, benzyl alcohol of rose, etc.). And the various health benefits of chocolate from the likes of flavonols, theobromine, etc. also come from the cocoa solids.

So, those who argue that white chocolate may not be as healthy may have a point. But again, one of the great benefits of any chocolate is that if you savour a bar at the end of the meal you can resist that second helping of whatever luscious pudding you are tempted by. And savouring craft chocolate definitely helps the second stomach and digestion.

The Delights of White Craft Chocolate

Cocoa butter may not be packed with flavonols, esters, pyrazines, etc. But cocoa butter is responsible for the amazingly satisfying melt of dark and milk craft chocolates. And white craft chocolate, when well conched, also has an amazing melt (although the snap is far softer).

And either with cocoa butter “as is” (i.e. not deodorised, but either plain or toasted), craft white chocolate bars that are just made with cocoa butter, milk and sugar have extraordinary flavours; just try any of the below.

Similarly, it’s also worth trying the way that high quality cocoa butter can be used by craft chocolate makers to also absorb other flavours, again see below.

One final point: Cocoa butter is also very filling. It’s hard to scoff a real white craft chocolate bar. They are just so rich. With that in mind we’ve built taster boxes for the bars we are tasting for this Sunday Brunch where the bars are ‘taster’ or only 50g bars, or you can try the full size box too and savour it over many weeks (cocoa butter is stable over many years, well after the milk powder).

Thanks as ever for your support.


P.S. If you dial in late to Sunday Brunch, please do NOT believe that dark chocolate comes from brown trees and white chocolate from white, albino trees. This was a (bad) joke.

P.P.S. We’re DELIGHTED to be holding a tasting with Bronwen Percival of Neal’s Yard Dairy where we will be sampling, and discussing, a range of three cheeses and six chocolates; comparing the similarities of location, crafting and flavour. Mark your diaries for the 28th September.

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Milks vs Mylks vs M!lks?

Walk into any specialty coffee store or health food store and you’ll be accosted by a dizzying array of plant based ‘mylks’ (read on for an explanation of this spelling). And craft chocolate is increasingly in on the act too (a hat tip to the likes of Solkiki and Forever Cacao whose vegan background inspired this move many moons ago).

What’s extraordinary is why this is only happening NOW: Why has it taken so long for people to discover the delights of alternative, plant based mylks? The answer, is that these plant based mylks aren’t new, and there has been some super smart marketing.

And what is even more extraordinary is why, and how, we ever came to drink animal milk. Only a few adults living in Northern Europe, along with the Masai in Africa, and a few other people in Asia, can comfortably drink animal milk. Most human adults struggle to drink milk for want of the lactase enzyme. And even for adults with this enzyme, for most of recorded history, until pasteurisation was developed, drinking milk was a pretty risky proposition. Indeed, the Romans viewed the way “northern barbarians” drank animal milk as a sign of their depravity and lack of hygiene.

See below for a selection of alternative mylks and animal milks that make for some intriguing comparisons. But please do note that whereas the taste and texture of an oat mylk latte is pretty similar to a latte made with cow’s milk latte, ‘alternative mylk’ chocolate bars aren’t really substitutes for ‘classic milk’ bars. They are more like “inclusion”, bars with distinct flavours and textures.

How did we come to consume so much animal milk?

Quite how humans first stumbled across making yogurt, cheese, etc. isn’t recorded. But we do know that in about 5000BC enterprising farmers in modern day Croatia were making cheese out of goat’s milk. And it’s now thought that various tribes in Northern Europe were drinking milk even earlier (possibly as early as 8000BC). Indeed, it’s even suggested that being able to secure this extra source of nutrition is what enabled these tribes in the North to prosper and survive.

But drinking milk really only took off in the 20th century with the advent of pasteurisation and, ironically, war time rationing. During (and after) World War I and II, both the UK and US governments faced all sorts of other food shortages and realised that drinking milk provided a great source of calcium, protein and vitamins. So drinking milk was actively encouraged; indeed in 1946 both Attlee’s government in the UK and Truman’s in the US made milk available for free in schools (and this continued in the UK up until Mrs Thatcher’s premiership in 1971).

Why did alternative, plant-based milks (re)appear?

Plant based mylks aren’t a new invention. Drinking (and cooking with) coconut milk may well predate Northern Europe’s habits with animal milks. In 14th-century China, a soy milk called ‘doufujian’ was a popular breakfast drink where it was consumed alongside crisp, savoury doughnuts. And published references to almond and soy milk can be found as far back as 1226 and 1365 respectively (and they were clearly being drunk before this).

One reason for the popularity of non animal milks in Europe is the same as why we eat fish on Fridays and why drinking chocolate took off in the late 16th century. As we discuss in our virtual tastings, the medieval custom of fasting (i.e. abstaining from any animal products on Wednesday, Fridays, Lent, and many other holy days) led to almond and oat milk being recommended by the church as nutritious and filling, and the Jesuits used the same argument to promote drinking chocolate in church on these days with papal endorsement.

But it wasn’t until the late 20th and early 21st centuries that ‘alternative mylks’ really took off again. In the UK various attempts were made by The Vegan Society to make plant based milks including cabbage (which REALLY didn’t boom) and soya milk (which did a little better) in the 1940s and 1950s.

What really seems to have fuelled the growth of alternative mylks was some smart marketing and genius (re)positioning. For example, in the US in the 1960s and 1970s, soya milk sales boomed after it was packaged in ‘Tetra Paks’ and sold in supermarkets’ refrigerated aisles to be next to cows milk. Although (most) soya milk doesn’t need refrigeration, placing it next to ‘normal’ milk meant that consumers saw it as an alternative for cereals, coffee, etc.

Even more cannily, over the last decade, marketeers have enlisted the support of specialty coffee stores to market a dizzying array of mylks; varying from tiger nut to cashew, pea to hemp, oat to soya. Appealing to customers via baristas is genius; it offers an upsell to valuable consumers, a new means for baristas to demonstrate their skills (it’s hard to steam, and then combine, many plant milks with coffee), highlights environmental concerns and creates ‘vibe’ and ‘buzz’. Indeed, the Swedish behemoth of oat based mylks; Oatly; initially only supplied specialty coffee stores in the US market, and created such demand that they accidentally spawned an underground market where loyal coffee store customers were occasionally allowed to purchase Oatly for home use.

Dairy farmers have not taken this onslaught lightly. They’ve formed various initiatives (including the wonderfully named 2017 bill called the Dairy Pride Act (Defending Against Imitations and Replacements of Yogurt, Milk and Cheese to Promote Regular Intake of Dairy Everyday). And, after extensive lobbying, EU law now prevents dairy alternatives from using the word milk if “it isn’t produced by a lactating mammal“; hence the use of “mylks” and “m!lks” (hat tip to Original Beans).

But despite these efforts, plant based mylks (and “m!lks”) continue to grow. And the same now looks to be happening in chocolate.

Animal and plant-based milks with chocolate.

Chocolate bars owe “lactating animal” based milk chocolate a huge debt. Indeed, without innovations around milk chocolate, we might still be mainly drinking chocolate (up until the mid-nineteenth century, chocolate was always consumed as a drink; mainly with water, but sometimes with milk). But then in the mid nineteenth century a series of technical developments changed all this, culminating in milk chocolate (for more details see here).

Firstly, Bristol based Joseph Fry discovered that if he added cocoa butter while he was grinding roasted cocoa nibs he could create a stable solid chocolate bar. And so, in 1847, he launched what is now described as the world’s first chocolate bar for eating.

And then a a series of inventions by the Swiss during the last few decades of the 19th century turbocharged the transition from ‘drinking’ to ‘eating’ chocolate. Firstly, Rodolpe Lindt accidentally discovered ‘conching‘ and how to create smooth and silky textured bars. Next, and arguably of even great importance, was the creation of milk chocolate bars by Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle. Daniel Peter’s perseverance here was extraordinary. For over twenty years he strived to find a way to add milk to chocolate, despite the fact that chocolate violently, and rapidly, spoils if it comes into contact with any liquid as it’s being ground and conched. The answer was to use Nestle’s dried milk powder and thereby create one of the world’s first ‘bliss point‘ foods that we now know to be irresistible.

One other side note: this propensity of milk to curdle partially explains the difference between American and European preferences in milk chocolate bars. While working out how to create powdered milk, Henri Nestle also worked out how to prevent this dried milk from undergoing lipolysis (i.e., curdling). But when Hershey copied Nestle and Daniel Peter’s milk chocolate, he apparently missed this trick and so his bars acquired a somewhat different aroma. Americans, however, fell in love with these milk chocolates and their ‘tanginess’ (technically this is called ‘butyric’). And even though today American milk doesn’t have any problem with lipolysis, because American consumers enjoy a tanginess in their milk chocolate, butyric acid is added. Consequently, over here in Europe, many of us find the smell a little suspect (Google for more graphic descriptions; and do come to a virtual tasting to find out more).

Unsurprisingly, given their environmental passion, craft chocolate makers are increasingly interested in experimenting with plant based mylks. And they too have run into some interesting labelling laws. For example, Original Beans‘ new ‘Vegan M!lk‘ (note the spelling) made with almonds contains a far higher percentage of chocolate than its milk alternative (Esmereldas Milk) which is made with the same beans. This is because to call this M!lk chocolate “chocolate” it needs to have, under EU rules, at least 14% of “dry non-fat cocoa solids” which in turn means that you need 45% cocoa or more in a bar to be “chocolate”.

Comparing plant based mylk (or m!lk) and animal based bars.

One heads up: Whereas an oat cappuccino isn’t a million miles away from a cappuccino made with full fat milk in terms of texture and taste, an oat, almond, rice or coconut milk chocolate bar is VERY different from a classic or dark milk bar (a dark milk craft chocolate is over 50% cocoa, most classic milk craft chocolates are 38-48%… mass produced bars can be as low as 20% chocolate).

A craft chocolate mylk or m!lk bar is better approached as an inclusion bar. The ‘mylk’ creates distinctive flavours and aromas that are intriguing to savour. Don’t judge them as failing to replicate classic milks; that’s not what they are about.

Health and environmental considerations.

Although the dairy industry has made various attempts to improve its environmental credentials, it’s facing an uphill battle. To summarise from a recent BBC report:

CARBON EMISSIONS (Per Litre Produced)WATER REQUIRED (Per Litre Produced)LAND REQUIRED (Per Litre Produced)
Milk (cow)3.2kg628 litres9.0m2
Almond Milk0.3kg371 litresNA
Oat Milk0.9kg48 litres0.8m2
Soy Milk1.0kg28 litresNA
Rice Milk1.2kg270 litres0.3m2
Note: It can be claimed that some of these comparisons may not be comparing “apples with apples” in that whereas a pint of milk is a pint of milk, a pint of almond mylk can be as low as 2% almonds (the rest being various additives, emulsifiers and of course water, which is also in cow milk).

And it only gets more complex when you look at the health claims. At the risk of promoting a tonne of furious email responses, I’d like to suggest that some of the health claims for alternative milks may be even more “out there” than some of those made over the years for chocolate. Indeed you can find can find studies arguing that (tick any of the below):

Chocolate / Cashew Milk / Raw Cocoa Nibs / Oat Milk / Tiger Nut Milk / Soya Milk etc.

…can help you with (again tick as you want):

Cleaning your teeth / Improving your mental health / Matching your blood type / Fortifying your bones / etc.

Check out some earlier blog posts for some of the studies that assert these wonders. Unwrapping these claims and making sense of them is hard, time consuming, and controversial. It may well be that matching your blood types to different milks may help you feel better (yes, this really is claimed by some mylk marketeers). But it’s hard to get the science sorted and feel comfortable about these assertions.

As ever, the best advice is to check the ingredients. Different soya or almond or oat milks will have radically different ingredients, additives and even use different processes. Repeated studies show that organic milk has less pesticides, antibiotics and added hormones than many supermarket milks. So, as with craft chocolate, read the small print.

And from a health perspective; don’t panic. Take comfort in the expert advice of the great nutritionist Marion Nestle (no relation of Henri):

[while] milk is not essential for health… milk is a food like any other, meaning that its effects depend on everything else people are eating or doing. People who like milk can continue drinking it. Those who don’t like it don’t have to.

And it’s the same with chocolate. We are now (fortunately) increasingly spoilt for choice. Enjoy these milk, mylk and m!lk bars!

As ever thanks for your support.


P.S. We will be releasing tickets for Canopy Market next week, so please do register your interest, and keep telling us what talks, pairings and topics you’d like us to cover HERE.

P.P.S. Please do join ChocolopolisLauren Adler and I for our tasting dual/duel on 6th October. You can find the tasting kit along with other selected bars below.

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Beware being asSALTed

crystals of salt

To tickle your taste buds and spark your interest, here is a quick quiz to kick start this week’s blog entry:

  1. According to the UK’s Department of Health, reducing the average intake of which additive by just one gram per day would save over 4,000 premature deaths in the UK per year?
    • Salt?
    • Sugar?
    • Fat?
  2. What kills more people a year?
    1. Excess Salt?
    2. Tobacco?
    3. Sugar?
  3. What has more salt in it?
    1. A cup of Galaxy instant hot chocolate drink?
    2. A glass of fresh seawater?
    3. A craft chocolate bar (inc. those with e.g., sea salt and nibs)?
  4. Which commodity provides the etymological basis for words including salary, soldier and salad?
    1. Salt?
    2. Pepper?
    3. Sugar?
  5. To prevent the smuggling of which commodity was a 3,000 mile hedge of thorns planted in India?
    1. Salt?
    2. Cotton?
    3. Tobacco?

If you answered “salt” (or the Galaxy instant hot chocolate drink) to the above set of questions, well done! 

Any which way, while salt is also an intriguing addition to craft chocolate and a critical culinary tool it also can be a major problem.

Humans need a (small) amount of salt per day to survive, but ‘in excess’ is also incredibly harmful. Indeed overdosing on salt was an approved suicide mechanic for aristocrats in ancient China. Today this sort of overdosing is pretty rare.  Nonetheless according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the published health guidelines of over 100 countries’ health departments, most of us are consuming “30-50% too much salt”, and over the long term, this “dramatically shortens our life expectancy” (source: WHO).

Read on to take some easy steps to avoid excess salt, and appreciate why a pinch of salt is still great for craft chocolate.

Why do we add salt to chocolate?

One of our most popular bars in our virtual tastings was Menakao’s ‘Salt and Nibs’ bar up until Brexit caused various supply challenges.  But fear not, it’s now back in stock and will feature in our upcoming Flavour Deep Dive Tasting from October, and it is safe to eat – see below).  And it’s a great example how a pinch of salt can pull out even more redberry and citric fruitiness from Madagascan chocolate that bursts with these aromas and flavours.

And many dark, milk and even white chocolate bars will contain a (small) pinch of salt. And this is smart for a bunch of reasons:

  1. Salt awakens our taste receptors for sweetness, so canny makers can make do with far less sugar than you’d expect.  With salt you need less sugar to make something taste sweet. Technically what happens is that a glucose sensor in our intestine known as SGLT1 is activated by salt, and this heightens our ability to detect sweetness in our tongue and gut.
  2. Salt also adds texture and crunch; many of us enjoy the ‘tang’ of salt (in small doses).
  3. The combination of sugar, salt and fat creates what is now called the bliss point.

Why do we add salt to other foods and drinks?

Salt has a bunch of other qualities that make it a great ‘go to’ for food and drink companies. Some of these applications are fine. Others are more dubious.

  • Salt is a fantastic preservative. Salt dries out meats, fish, etc. and by doing so prevents bacteria from spoiling the food.  Humans have known this for at least 8,000 years.
  • Salt inhibits the sensation of bitterness: Try adding salt, for example, to some grapefruit and it’s extraordinary to see how this works. Indeed even ultra processed, mass produced 100% dark chocolate bars can be made a bit more palatable by a dose of salt.
  • Salt also prevents us realising that a food is otherwise bland and flavourless; Professor Graham MacGregor of the UK’s Action Against Salt is illuminating on (ab)uses here.
  • Salt also acts as a great binding and bulking agent. Adding salt to meat, chicken, etc. enables unscrupulous manufacturers to inject more water into, for example, a chicken breast, so effectively you can pay 15-25% as a maker can ‘bulk up’ of these foods.
  • Salt also makes us very thirsty, so if you want people to drink lots and lots, adding salt is a canny play to sell more soda, soft drinks, etc.

What’s the problem with excess salt?

Humans definitely need salt. But we need remarkably little; less than 0.5g per day is enough for various remote tribes in South America and South East Asia. And indeed the Yanomamo tribe in Brazil regularly run more than 20 kilometres per day on these levels of salts — and are far healthier (again see the blog for more details here and two great podcasts).

By contrast, in the UK the average citizen consumes over 10 grams of salt per day, over 30% more than government guidelines. And we aren’t alone here; of 189 countries surveyed by the World Health Organisation in 2015, 181 were above the WHO daily average recommended daily intake of 5 grams per day (note: exactly how much is “too much” is the subject of lengthy debates, but it’s generally recommended that adults shouldn’t consume more than 5 grams (WHO) or 6 grams (UK NHS) per day).

Numerous studies have shown that this excessive salt creates multiple health challenges. Without wishing to panic you, here are couple of warnings (along with explanations, and please note that “sodium” is the American term for we in the UK call salt):

  1. In most people, the kidneys have trouble keeping up with excess sodium [salt] in the blood. As sodium accumulates, the body holds onto water… This increases… the volume of blood in the bloodstream [which leads to]… more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure can stiffen blood vessels, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. It can also lead to heart failure. There is some evidence that too much salt can damage the heart, aorta, and kidneys… and that it may be bad for bones, too (Harvard School of Public Health).
  2. Too much salt consumption kills more than a million people each year, with death rates the highest in low and middle income countries… too much salt intake now accounts for one of every ten deaths from cardiovascular causes (New England Journal of Medicine).
  3. …regularly eating too much salt puts us at increased risk of developing high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the main cause of strokes and a major cause of heart attacks and heart failures, the most common causes of death and illness in the world (WHO – Action against Salt).

Historically a major issue with many studies on salt was the difficulty of measuring salt levels and obtaining consistent results. Unlike many other nutritional research fields where a couple of measurements a day will suffice, salt levels fluctuate MASSIVELY hour by hour; so the experiments and controls for studies on salt require far more measurements and are really hard to do. And then salt’s deleterious impacts can take decades to appear; even longer than tobacco, and way longer than sugar. As a result, various early salt research using daily, not hourly, measurements created some contradictory and confusing results (the so called J Curve, which somehow suggest it’s OK, and maybe even good, to have salt at some low and then high levels, but not consume ‘average’ levels of salt).

How are we consuming so much salt?

10 grams of salt is a LOT. To put this in context, you’d need to consume over 70 full bars of the Menakao Cocoa Nibs & Sea Salt in a day to get near to your recommended UK 6 grams per day (and over 100 bars for the 10g most of us are consuming).

The culprit of our excessive salt consumption is (again) ultra processed food. To quote one recent Australian study, “Around 75 per cent of the salt in our diet comes from [ultra] processed foods, which means we may be unaware of the amount of salt we are having”.

As the Australian study notes, where the salt is in these ultra processed foods isn’t always obvious. For example, many ultra processed breads contain more salt than a bag of crisps. As the UK’s Action On Salt warned in 2014 and 2018: “In the UK, bread is the single biggest contributor of salt to people’s diets, providing nearly a fifth of salt intake from ultra processed foods”. So just by checking the amount of salt in your daily bread can make all the difference.

And because salt is so good at “tickling our taste buds”, many ultra processed confectionery bars and drinks contain an awful lot of salt, for example:

  1. Ultra Processed chocolate confectionery including snacks such as a Crunchie bar contain over 0.72 grams of salt per bar.
  2. Instant hot chocolate drinks by the likes of Cadbury and Galaxy can contain over 1 gram of salt per serving; more than in a glass of sea water!
  3. A Pret chocolate croissant contains 4.7 grams of salt per croissant (and a plain croissant still has 0.9 grams).

Don’t Panic!

Savouring a craft chocolate bar doesn’t expose you to the risk of excessive salt. Even those like Zotter’s ‘Butter Caramel’ or Menakao’s milk chocolate bars (which are BRILLIANT examples of the bliss point combination of sugar, salt and fat) have way less salt in them than a commercial slice of mass processed bread, high street croissant and most chocolate confectionery snacks.

If you cook at home (as opposed to reheating food like substances), adding salt to flavour and season is also safe, especially when cooking with craft chocolate.

At the same time, checking out the amount of salt on any product’s ingredients is a useful ‘red light’ warning for processed foods. If there is more than 0.7g per 100g it likely means it’s an ultra processed food like substance. Note: sadly this doesn’t hold in reverse. Back in the bad old days, many supermarket mass produced, “plain” dark chocolates did have salt added to them to obscure their lack of flavour. But since Action On Salt‘s “naming and shaming”, these activities have been curtailed (although these bars are still ultra processed; nib rather than bean roasted and other additives are still included).

And one other bit of good news: Once you start to reduce your consumption of ultra processed food like substances that are full of salt, your taste buds will rapidly adjust to appreciate, and indeed demand, less salt. You’ll just need a pinch of salt (and/or sugar) to bring out the flavours of your ingredients and foods.

So please enjoy some craft chocolate bars that all show the wonders of a pinch of salt.

Thanks as ever for your support.


P.S. We are delighted to announce a Tasting ‘Duel and Dual‘ with Lauren Adler of Chocolopolis in Seattle, USA. We’re doing a joint virtual tasting of three different beans in six bars on the 6th October. See here to purchase the box, and see below for more details.  Please do join us!

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Save the Dates: 15th-17th October, 2021

After what seems like forever, we are DELIGHTED to announce a CRAFT CHOCOLATE TAKEOVER of Canopy Market in Kings Cross, London, on the weekend of the 15th-17th October.

It’s a great way to celebrate Chocolate Week in the UK. Canopy Market is outside (but covered), and very easy to reach. It’s been over eighteen months since we last held any in person events: Way too long! So we are pulling out all the stops.

Makers and Bars

We’ll have a bunch of great craft chocolate makers from all of the UK for you to chat with, and try their new bars (and old favourites). We’ve Chocolarder coming from Cornwall, Bare Bones from Glasgow, Neary Nogs from Northern Ireland, Dormouse from Manchester, Solkiki, Pump Street, FireTree, Tosier and a host of other makers (hopefully some international makers … but we’ll see).

Cocoa Runners will also have a stand, and we’ll be featuring a host of new bars from some of our international makers including Hogarth’s Bread and Butter, Omnom’s 2021 Christmas bars, Original Beans’ new almond milk bar and Zotter‘s Advent Calendar

David Crichton, ex-MasterChef, and truffle maker extraordinaire, will also be attending so you can sample his latest creations. Kate Cavallin, of Cacao Latitudes, is bringing some fresh cocoa pods to taste as she talks about cocoa sourcing, farming and harvesting in Latin America and West Africa.

Talks, Tastings, and Pairings

In addition to David and Kate’s talks, we’re planning two days’ worth of tastings, pairings and talks. 

Here are some of the pairings we’ve already ‘locked down’ (I never thought that expression would be welcome again!):

  • Rachel McCormack; radio star, best selling author, and all around whisky expert; will be pairing a bunch of whiskies with craft chocolate,
  • Ida and Rebecca from Corney & Barrow will be showing how to pair wine and chocolate (both reds and whites), 
  • There’ll be rum and chocolate pairings with Diplomatico,
  • Maxwell, from Colonna Coffee, will show how to “cup” (coffee) and pair a range of coffees with craft chocolate, 
  • Ellen from Neal’s Yard Dairy will be showcasing the UK’s greatest cheeses and explore the similarities of how cheese, and craft chocolate are sourced and made.

And here are some of the talks we have planned:

  • Sourcing cocoa; its ethics and environmental impact (with fresh cocoa pods to taste),
  • New bars, new themes and new ideas from all our makers,
  • The science of taste and flavour, where you’ll find out if you are a super taster (and what this really means),
  • Cooking and using craft chocolate at home (with David Crichton sharing some of his master chef skills),
  • How to pair craft chocolate with your book club (in collaboration with Katheryn Laverack).

We’d also love your help here with other suggestions and requests; so please let us know other pairings and talks you’d like to see/hear.  Please just take a moment to complete this FORM. You could also comment below this post. Thank you in advance.

We will be releasing tickets over the next few weeks. Tickets will be between £3 and £7.50 per person, depending on the event. If you want early access, just register HERE to be first in line. (NOTE: coming to the market and meeting the makers at their stalls is all free; just turn up. It’s only the tastings and events, where we need to plan numbers, and where we’ll be suppling lots of chocolate, wine, whisky, coffee, cheese, ice cream and more, that we are charging a nominal fee.

In the interim, please see below for a host of great new bars from makers we look forward to once again be chatting to in person at Canopy Market from October 15th-17th. Please mark your calendars to come and say “hi” again in person!

Wishing everyone in the UK a great bank holiday weekend,


P.S. Canopy Market is held in the open air. But we know that not everyone can travel, or will feel comfortable about attending in person. So if you’d like us to record (and possibly live-stream) sessions, again, please let us know HERE or leave a comment below.

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Myths about Calories

cartoon joke about calories

One of the most misleading dietary rules is “count the calories and you’ll lose weight”. Calorie calculations are based on experiments made over a century ago that even then were acknowledged as “broad brush”.

Quite how a unit of measurement originally applied to steam engines and then adapted by nutritionists who stuck people in copper cells for a week at a time to measure their food, breathing and faeces, became the mainstay of so many diets is peculiar.

And focusing on ‘calorie counting’ distracts from the difference between ‘food like substances’ (such as ultra processed, mass produced chocolate) and ‘real foods’ (like craft chocolate). Calorie counting isn’t a path to healthy eating or even losing weight.

Chocolate is demonised for being high in calories. It is indeed true that a craft dark chocolate bar will contain more calories than a bar of ultra processed, mass produced chocolate that is packed full of additives, preservatives and sugar (sugar is not calorically dense). But this certainly doesn’t mean that ‘low calorie’ snacks (including confectionery and chocolate) are ‘healthier’ or good for your waistline.

To unwrap these misconceptions, it’s worth understanding the history of calories and unpicking the challenges posed by over focusing on calories, low fat foods, etc.

The History of The Calorie … France

Given France’s culinary tradition, it’s appropriately ironic that the man credited with first coining, and then defining, the calorie was a Frenchman: Nicolas Clément. Nicolas was not a chef or nutritionist. Rather he was an entrepreneur who also held one of the first chairs in industrial chemistry at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers in Paris. And his students record him using the term calories to measure how steam engines convert heat into work, specifically defining a calorie as the quantity of heat needed to raise the temperature of 1 kg of water by one degree.

Whilst Clement is now credited with inventing the term calories another French chemist, Antoine Lavosier, laid the groundwork that enabled it’s rapid adoption. Back in 1780 Lavoisier designed a tool to measure how guinea pigs’ breathing would heat up ice. He called this device a “calorimeter” and then adapted it to measure the heat from various mechanical experiments and chemical reactions.

In the late 19th century scientists in Germany, keen to improve farming efficiency, used calories and calorimeters to measure how different animal feeds impacted cattle’s weight gain by weighing them, and monitoring their respiration. Note the link between nutrition and respiration is key; we lose weight and burn calories via breathing (yes, that’s right; we lose weight almost entirely via breathing and Lavosier was definitely onto something).

… The USA

Turning this work on cattle and animal feeds to modern calorie counting and diets involved a couple of extraordinary hops.

The man generally credited with putting calories at the heart of human nutrition and dieting is an American, Wilbur O. Atwater, who studied in Germany (and Atwater generously credits these scientists, especially: Voit, Rubner, Henneberg and Stohmann, in much of his work). Atwater’s work was designed to inform people to spend their “hard earned wages” on more “calorifically and nutritionally effective foods”; as far as can be understood, dieting wasn’t on his agenda.

Atwater first experiments were with a ‘bomb calorimeter’; basically a chamber-like device where food samples are burned, heating up the surrounding water. The amount of food that needed to be burnt to raise the temperature of the surrounding water by one degree gave Atwater a benchmark to calculate the calories of different foods (this is where the phrase “burning calories” comes from) and come up with some general rules.

But measuring food energy in a bomb calorimeter is obviously different from the way a human body digests, and uses, food. Basically we don’t ‘consume’ everything we eat; some foods we can’t digest and we will ‘excrete’ (mainly via our bowels). Atwater called the difference between what we consume and excrete “available energy” (nowadays known as metabolisable energy). And he calculated it through simple arithmetic; taking the total energy produced by burning the food sample and subtracting this from the energy not used by the body (i.e. excreted matter).

To measure this excreted matter, and to control for other variables, Atwater performed thousands of experiments on volunteers on over 500 different foods in what he called a “respiration chamber”. The respiration chamber sounds somewhat like a prison, and not much fun. Volunteers were asked to spend a week in a “box of copper incased in walls of zinc and wood [where] he lives – eats, drinks, works, rests, and sleeps. …the temperature is kept at the point most agreeable. …in the chamber are a small folding cot-bed, a chair, and a table. …[the chamber is] 7 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 6 feet high. Food and drink are passed into the chamber through an aperture which serves also for the removal of the solid and liquid excretory products, and the passing in and out of toilet materials, books, and other things required for comfort and convenience“.

Armed with the results of the bomb calorimeter and the respiration chamber Atwater could work out the ‘calorie count’ of different foods. And in 1894 Atwater published his findings in the USDA Farmer’s Bulletin under the title “Foods: Nutritive Value and Cost”. In this he categorised three basic food types; protein, fats and carbohydrates. And to each of these food types he assigned different calorie counts. The basics for the calculation have been tweaked, but have remained basically the same ever since; proteins and carbohydrates are assumed to contain 4 kCals per gram and fats and lipids to have 9 kCals per gram. And even today when you look at the calorie count on any food, it will be based on a simple calculation on the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats in the food multiplied by these Atwater’ factors.

The simplicity of the calorie system proved irresistible. It was used during the first world war to help work out what agricultural crops to plant and animals to rear. And after the war, authors started to write articles and books to help people diet. One of the most famous of these was by Dr Lulu Hunt Peters, titled “Diet & Health”, and from 1922 to 1926 it consistently was in the NY Times Top 10 best seller list. Read it today and it’s hard to believe it isn’t an article (or blog) from any current dietary magazine (or website).

Why a calorie may not really be a calorie…

From the get go, the problems of Atwater’s calculations were apparent (and to be fair, he acknowledged many of them). And his calculations were NOT designed for dieting. They were designed to help people generally, and farmers specifically, figure out which foods were better nutritional value for their hard earned dollars.

In no apparent order, here are some examples of the problems with “calorie counting” to diet:

  • The way protein is metabolised by the body is radically different to the way carbohydrates and fats are metabolised. To quote Dr Giles Yeo: “Atwater’s calculations never took into account the energy it takes our cells to metabolise food in order to use it. …a calorie of protein makes you feel fuller than a calorie of fat, because protein is more complex to metabolise. For every 100 calories of protein you eat, you only ever absorb 70”.
  • And it’s not just protein calories that work differently; in 1973 Merill and Watt of the USDA revised the Atwater Factors noting that variations of digestibility in carbohydrates could mean you can absorb between 32% to 98% depending on which carbohydrate you ate (i.e. for some carbohydrates, only 32g of a 100g portion will be digested, for others it’s 98g).
  • How food is cooked (and prepared) also radically alters how it can be metabolised, as is what you cook together (e.g., making it more digestible and therefore higher in calories).
  • Your genes also make a massive difference to how you absorb foods too, and again, Giles Yeo’s book is eye opening here; he has some pretty sobering studies from Professor Clare Llewellyn of UCL showing how socio-economic status impacts the heritability of body weight varies from 40% for middle class families to 70% for those who are “food insecure”.
  • Your microbiome similarly makes a huge difference (read any of Tim Spector’s books for more on this).

So basically, the nature of the protein/carb/fat, the way the are cooked, what else you eat it with, your genes, your socio-economic circumstances, and your microbiome, all mean that the effective calories you eat mean that a food listed as having 100 calories could effectively be metabolised by you to generate anywhere from 20 to 99 calories.

But because almost all packaged foods list their calculated calories and because it seems so simple, many people do ‘count the calories’. Counting calories can convey an impression of control. But counting calories is also very misleading and may encourage people to believe that a low calorie, ultra processed snack (or chocolate bar) is better for them.

So What to Do?

It is very clear that some foods (and drinks) are unhealthy. And fattening. But you won’t be able to work this out by looking at their calorie count.

A far better approach would be to avoid ultra processed foods, including almost all mass processed chocolate and confectionery with their additives, preservatives, hydrolyzed added fats, sugars, etc.

The best advice is to first check the ingredients. If there is an ingredient listed that you don’t have in your kitchen and/or if your grandmother wouldn’t recognise the ingredient, why are you considering eating this? And please, please, try to ensure you know where the bars are made and beans are sourced.

And don’t fixate on calories. The listed numbers need to be adjusted by so many factors that they are effectively as useful as the proverbial chocolate tea pot.

Far better to follow the simple advise of Michael Pollan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants“; and in particular focus on the first two words: “eat food“. Not low calorie food stuffs that are ultra-processed and mass produced.

Chocolate and Calories

Gram for gram, sugar is lower in calories than chocolate (and many artificial ingredients and additives are lower still). So mass produced chocolate appears ‘better’ than craft chocolate in terms of calorie count; for example:


Maltesers (37g)187
Creme Egg187
Kit Kat (4 finger)233
Mars Bar (58g)260
Bounty (57g)268
Snickers (58g)296


Menakao 45% Milk and 72% Dark (70g)391-451
Standout Coconut Milk (50g)316
Amaro Piura Peru, 75% Dark (70g)390

Gram per gram, craft chocolate bars contain more chocolate, which is far more filling (and nutritious) than sugar and all the other additives, flavouring agents, e-numbers, etc. in low calorie, mass produced chocolate snacks. So, craft chocolate has a higher calorie count (note: the bars are also bigger in most of the cases above). But (normally) you savour a few squares of craft chocolate at a time. In contrast, ultra-processed, mass market chocolate is also designed to be scoffed. So you end up eating the whole bar and, depending on the time, mess up your appetite for lunch, dinner, etc. (again, savouring craft chocolate is great at any time, especially after a meal to explore your ‘second stomach, see last week’s blog entry).

So this weekend, check the ingredients (and ideally, identify where the bar has been crafted, and the source of the beans). Don’t get distracted by calories. And please see below for a few very different craft chocolate bars that you can savour (and ignore the calorie counts).

Thanks as ever for your support.


P.S. Do come to a virtual tasting to discuss this topic and more! See HERE

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Why You Should Always Have Room For Craft Chocolate

Ever felt really full after the main course of a meal … and then suddenly some ice cream, chocolate cake, or other dessert is offered and magically somehow you are hungry again?

You aren’t alone in this. Indeed, scientists have studied this and come up with a scientific explanation for the condition that’s called “sensory specific satiety”. Or less technically, but more graphically, “the second stomach (or dessert stomach)”.

Read on to discover why savouring some craft chocolate at the end of the meal will not only make you feel better (it aids digestion if done in moderation), but is also healthier.

And it’s also worth understanding how sensory specific satiety is (ab)used by ultra processed mass-produced foods (including chocolate confectionery) to make us scoff more, more, and more.

Note: Many (most?) of the claims for chocolate as a miracle food and for its health benefits are somewhat suspect. Basically, the sample sizes of most studies are too small. And the companies financing the studies don’t inspire confidence. However, the logic and case for some craft chocolate at the end of the meal seems far stronger. And we do strongly recommend that you try some of the bars below after a meal in the interest of scientific research!

Why do we feel full?

Explaining why we feel full is intuitive. At its most basic, we feel full because our stomach sends messages to our brain saying “enough” (this happens as hormones are released when our stomach absorbs nutrients and our stomach and intestines become “constricted”, i.e. full).

And as we all know, there is generally a lag between our brains receiving this message, so we often over consume and feel very full. The Japanese have a great expression here; “harahachibu”; eat until you feel your stomach (hara) is 80% (hachibu) full. And then by the time your stomach has communicated with your brain, you will feel full, but not stuffed.

…So why do we suddenly feel ‘hungry’ again at the sight of ice cream and pudding?

Almost all of us, even when we’ve eaten ‘well’, will find that we suddenly have room for our favourite pudding or dessert. And most of the time this favourite next course will be sweet.

Scientists suggest that this is the result of nature wanting us to eat a variety of different foods. You may well be full of beans, fish, meat, etc. But nature knows that in addition to, for example, protein and carbohydrates, you also need fibre and other nutrients.
So, to stop us ‘just’ eating one food, we are psychologically and physically pre-programmed to become satiated by foods that have the same flavour, textures, mouthfeels and sensations. We feel, and become, ‘sated’.

But becoming full isn’t the same as being “sated”. Sated can also be a sign of being bored. And, back in 1956, a French physiologist, Jacques Le Magned, described how humans became bored and dissatisfied if they only consumed one food, but regained their appetite if they were offered new flavours, textures and sensations. In 1981 Barbara and Edmund gave this description a name “sensory specific satiety“.

Scientists suggest that this sensory specific satiety is key to our good health. As Russel Keast, trained chef, professor of food science, and director of Deakin University in Australia notes:

In evolutionary history, variety was important … different foods provided a variety of nutrients, which helped us survive by providing everything we need for normal function”.

So you can argue that eating a sweet food after a main course is just part of human nature. It’s all part of adding variety to our meals.

And sweet foods have a trick to get around us feeling full. Sweet foods actually cause our stomachs to ‘relax’ and make more room (or rather feel less constricted) as we eat them. Indeed, even the sight and smell of a favourite pudding (or craft chocolate bar), can cause our stomachs to relax.

As Arnold Berstad and Jørgen Valeur from Lovisenberg Diakonale Hospital in Norway put it:

If you eat dessert after you’re actually feeling stuffed you’re tricking your normal sensation of being full … if you think of, and then eat, something sweet your stomach relaxes through three collaborating factors:

  • First of all, the sight and smell of food and the process of chewing and swallowing it have an effect.
  • Secondly, the pressure of food against the stomach has its important impact.
  • And thirdly, the duodenum ‘tastes’ the components of the food”.

And this is where sweets and desserts play a trump card.

Sweet desserts stimulate this relaxation reflex … it can decrease the pressure on the stomach and reduce the sensation of being full. A sweet dessert allows the stomach to make room for more food” (Again, Berstad and Valeu).

Additional advice. And the case for craft chocolate:

These Danish researchers also have some additional advice; you do need to beware eating too much dessert. In their opinion (and we concur):

The problem is that you don’t know when to stop eating dessert. The brakes on carbohydrate consumption are five metres further down, at the lower end of the small intestine … fat, however, is absorbed higher up in the system and triggers a high-placed brake. It makes you quickly full”.
The optimal use of dessert is really a question of moderation … the best thing to do is to limit your consumption of dessert to just a taste of something sweet. This won’t split your gut, and at the same time the small dose of sugar will trigger the dessert expansion. The result will probably be that you feel a little less full after your meal”.

Sounds like a recipe for savouring some craft chocolate at the end of a meal? Cocoa butter after all is one of nature’s most amazing ‘fats’.

Too good to be true? The evidence:

The studies to test sensory specific satiety have been very creative. Here are a few:

  1. The first studies were done in the 1980s by simulating buffet-style meals. Participants were fed four meals that included sausages, bread and butter, chocolate dessert, and bananas along with a variety of other foods. They were then supplied with four courses comprising just one of these foods (i.e. just sausages with nothing else, just bananas, etc.). The results are perhaps unsurprising to all of us who have “over done it” at a buffet. Those offered the variety of the buffet were found to eat over 40% more than those given only one option per course.
  2. Another study compared how much ice cream people will eat if they are only given one flavour versus three flavours. They discovered that people will eat A LOT more if you’ve three different flavour scoops rather than one (now you know why you are also encouraged to mix and match in an ice cream store…).
  3. And the Japanese have even shown this on live TV. The cult Japanese TV show Kaitai Shin broadcast an episode where a gastrointestinal specialist, Shigeki Koyama, gave two people a superabundance of French cuisine. He then placed both subjects into an MRI machine and showed them a piece of cake. Amazingly, just the sight and smell of the cake caused massive changes in the shape of their stomachs, essentially making room for the cake even before the cake was eaten, squeezing and contorting itself to find room. Truly a “second stomach” (setsubara in Japanese).

The dark side: How sensory satiety is abused:

This sensory specific satiety (i.e. nature’s way of telling us to try lots of different things) combined with nature telling us to gorge on sweet foods (which historically have been full of nutrients and energy) unfortunately can be, and indeed is, abused by ultra-processed food, and mass produced chocolate, companies. Ever wondered why there are so many variants of classic mass-produced confectionery, and why they contain so many different textures and bits? Look no further.

To quote Michael Moss, author of “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us”:

Junk food makers have perfected a process known as subverting ‘sensory-specific satiety’ … (they) owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating”.

Try to describe the flavours, tastes and textures of a mass produced chocolate bar. Sure; it’s sweet, and smooth, and consistent; but there really isn’t much development or room for savouring. It’s incredibly easy just to scoff a bar in one go.

By contrast, a craft chocolate bar cries out to be savoured. The complexity of texture, tastes and flavour don’t make you want to scoff more and more. You want to savour and enjoy. It doesn’t take much to be sated and your senses delighted.

Break out your craft chocolate bars and truffles.

So the bottom line is: Next time you feel like having seconds of pudding (or maybe even firsts…) instead break out some craft chocolate. Savour it. Hopefully it will relax your stomach. And it’ll satiate your urge for too much pudding.

Below, we’ve suggested some recently added bars (and truffles) to savour; and please, in the interests of scientific research, do experiment as to how they delight and satisfy you after different meals.

As ever, thanks for your support.