One of the great aspects of working in craft chocolate is the people you come across. You meet chefs, engineers, environmental activists, racing car designers, opera singers and, this week, a US based team who moved from meditation, yoga and herb gardening to speciality coffee and craft chocolate.
Moka Origins is the creation of Jeff and Ishan. Unlike many craft chocolate makers who start off in their kitchen crafting bars, Jeff and Ishan started on a farm; and not even a cocoa farm. In their own words, Jeff and Ishan came to craft chocolate via what they modestly describe as “humanitarian community development”. Back in 2007, when they were working in Cameroon for the Himalayan Institute growing medicinal herbs, they realised that the key crops for Cameroon of cocoa and coffee had “completely broken” supply chains which was causing huge suffering and hardship for many farmers.
And over the next seven years Jeff and Ishan worked to solve a host of local challenges, while also acquiring more expertise in cocoa, chocolate and coffee, to address this “opportunity”. By 2014 they had assembled a group of cocoa farmers in the Kumbo region of Cameroon, and then in 2015 they were granted 1200 acres of land by the local Cameroonian government. They named the company Moka, a play on the term Mocha, meaning a combination of chocolate and cocoa, as they also grow, and roast, coffee.
And then the really hard work started. The land they’d been granted had no running water, no roads and no electricity. So in addition to finding the best spots to start growing cacao, the team had to build the infrastructure needed; including building wells, an internal road network, solar infrastructure, a river irrigation system and a tree nursery.
In 2017 to complete their ‘tree to bar’ loop, and to turbo charge both their coffee and chocolate initiatives, they built their own factory back at Honesdale, Pennsylvania. And if you are nearby do drop by and say “hi”! For more details, check out our ChocolaTourism page (and indeed, Jeff also runs trips to Africa to visit the farmers in person).
Their bars are also awesome in flavour. Sadly covid, combined with political and social uncertainties, mean that Moka has not been able to import any beans from Cameroon over the last few months; so we don’t (yet!) have their Cameroon beans/bars. But we do have the bars crafted from beans they source from Tanzania, where they work with the like-minded Simran and Brian of Kokoa Kamili. Similarly, please try Moka’s Ugandan bars that are crafted from Jeff Steinberg’s Latitude beans. And if you are subscriber, you should also have received their interpretation of the ABOCFA co-operative’s Ghanaian beans last month. See below for more details on all these bars.
With the Jubilee bank holiday weekend fast approaching, we are, once again, reminded of our collective ‘freedom’. Whatever you have planned, whether that is a street party, a BBQ (fingers crossed on the weather), or escaping the UK altogether, the shadow of covid means that we still feel grateful that these events are possible. And wherever, and however, you are celebrating may we recommend our Jubilee Commonwealth box for a tour of twelve different regions of the Commonwealth, our milk and dark Jubilee four bar box sets or our ‘make your own’ lollipop sets?
With this freedom in mind and following the success of our chocolate tasting evenings earlier in the year, we have lots of exciting in-person events planned throughout the summer. Chatting with people who share our enthusiasm for speciality products is really rewarding. It’s equally rewarding to bring together like-minded craft chocolate fans. As many of you know, one of our aims is to create a community of chocolate lovers, and hosting these events makes this aim a reality.
We’ve been long-term fans of ALSO Festival (partly due to their long tradition of wild swimming!): An incredible weekend of music, comedy, food, and, in their own words, ‘ideas’. Even though they successfully created a hybrid festival last year (hosting both virtual and in person events), we were thrilled that we can get out our tents and join the crowds from the 8th-10th of July.
And, for those of you who are fans of our resident whisky expert Rachel McCormack, she will also be exploring Scotland’s best whiskies. Appealing to the avid foodies, there’s countless brilliant events, including a sake tasting masterclass, a food illustration class, a foraging walk, a talk simply titled ‘tomatoes’, and many, many more – and that’s just the food side!
ALSO have been kind enough to give our customers an extra discount on ticket prices; use the exclusive code RUNWILD22 for 15% off their exciting events! Please secure your tickets HERE.
Next, we are back to 13 Charterhouse Square for some very special ‘maker-focused’ evenings. We take a lot of pride in our family of craft chocolate makers and, since many of them are international, it is a real pleasure to meet them. With this thought in mind, we thought it would be fantastic if you could also meet the world’s best chocolate makers, including Pedro Martins Araújo, the founder of Vinte Vinte.
We are in the final stages of launching Vinte Vinte, and to celebrate this partnership, we thought we’d host a very special tasting with Pedro himself; or, more accurately, a tasting party! This will involve tasting his incredible bars, understanding more about his craft chocolate journey, and raising a toast to the Vinte Vinte brand (a range of Taylor’s white, tawny and ruby ports will be provided). A very limited number of tickets can be purchased HERE and below.
We are keen to host more parties with our makers, particularly as many of you have long-established relationships with our brands. Since one of our most beloved makers, Chocolarder, are turning 10 this year, we thought another party was in order. Join us, alongside Chocolarder’s founder Mike Longman, on the 8th September to celebrate their fantastic achievements while tasting the results of a decade’s worth of hard work. And we’ve more maker specific events planned; see HERE for more details about the whole range.
Please see below to secure your tickets for these brilliant in person events. Tasting events at our 13 Charterhouse Square space are intimate evenings, and therefore we only have a limited amount of tickets; we’d recommend buying now to avoid disappointment.
Finally, we hope you have a glorious bank holiday weekend and a well-deserved rest. We look forward to meeting more of you this summer and these events.
If you are in the UK, you’ve still (JUST) got time to order some craft chocolate in time for delivery on Monday for Valentine’s Day. Please order by 11am Friday morning, and please choose tracked and 24 hour delivery services, and we’ll do our best to deliver in time for Monday. See HERE and below for a range of Valentine’s Day hampers, wine pairings, and also some digital vouchers if you want to be 110% sure your gift will arrive in time. Thanks Spencer P.S. If you want to brush up your Valentine’s and related craft chocolate knowledge, here are a few articles:
To welcome in 2022, we pulled together 22 chocolate related questions to test your knowledge and highlight the benefits of eating craft chocolate!
Here we run through the answers and provide some extra information to find out even more fascinating and shocking chocolate facts.
Q1: How many litres of water (or baths) are needed to grow, and make, a chocolate bar?
1-10 (a third of a bath)
11-100 (1-2 baths)
101-1000 (2-20 baths)
1000-2000 (20-40 baths)
Cocoa Trees require a LOT of water – hence the importance of rainforests. For more, please see here
Q2: What is the first recorded dish we have for preparing or cooking with chocolate?
Chocolate Ice cream
It’s Chocolate ice cream! There has been a recipe discovered which dates back to 1692, the same book that first recorded a recipe for tomato ketchup. Recipes for chocolate cakes don’t appear until around 100 years later, and brownies and digestives are even later – 1895 and 1926 to be exact. Mousse is also a pretty recent invention, created in the nineteenth century by the artist Toulouse Lautrec, a recipe which he called chocolate “mayonaise”.
See links below for more fascinating scoops on ice cream:
Q3. Which of the following countries grows both wine and cocoa?
That’s right, the land down under – where chocolate grows and it’s sure to thunder…
As well as having vast open vineyards for wine production – Australia’s dense rainforests are the perfect location for producing cacao!
France, Argentina and Chile all grow great wines; but they lack rainforests and hence no cocoa!
One Australian cacao producer is Daintree, established almost 10 years ago, they produce single-origin craft chocolate, based in North Queensland.
To read about Daintree’s origins take a look at this article
Another Australian Chocolate company goes by the name “The Smooth Chocolator” producing delicious single origin chocolate – see here for one of their bars (unfortunately it is currently out of stock, but join our waitlist to find out when it returns!)
Q4: In which country was Cadbury accused of using slave labour to obtain cacao in the late 1890s and early 1900s?
Sao Tome, the Portugese colony, used many slaves to grow cocoa in it’s height of cocoa cultivation in the 19th century.
To discover what was really happening behind the mask of Bournville read our blog post here
Q5. Which company produced the first commercial chocolate bar for eating?
Fry’s of Bristol in 1847 (followed by Cadbury’s a few years later).
See our Blog Post to discover a bit more about Fry and his role in chocolate’s history.
Q6. Which company was instrumental in the production of the first milk chocolate bar?
Henri Nestle was the pioneer of chocolate as most of us know it – as milk chocolate. The formula was first completed in Vevey, Switzerland, in 1875, after 7 years of trials. Chocolatier Daniel Peter, used Nestlé’s powdered milk to create the first milk chocolate bar, named the Gala!
Q7: Who is the odd one out for not being associated with chocolate gifts BEFORE (or on) Christmas?
St Nicholas (aka Santa Claus)
Santa Klaus / St Nicholas is associated with chocolate gold coins, given on Advent and Christmas day; Napoleon with Chocolate Yuletide Logs; Eisenhower with Chocolate Advent Calendars. Befana (from Italy) is associated with chocolate – but on Epiphany, i.e. after Christmas!
To explore more about chocolate gift giving, explore our blog posts:
Q8. Which of the following products does NOT contain butyric acid
Hershey’s milk chocolate
Your underarm and feet
A craft dark chocolate bar
Butyric acid is commonly found in cheese, a helpful addition in the fermenting process – this, however is not the case when it comes to good quality chocolate
To learn more about the role of Butyric acid in cheese – read here
Also, ever wondered why the popular american chocolate, Hershey’s, can evoke smells which resemble vomit to non-Americans – take a look at this article
Q9. Which of the following is not a taste sensed on your tongue?
There are five main flavours which can be detected by the taste buds on our tongue. Taste works when tiny hairs known as microvilli receive and send a message to our brains, relaying the flavours it detects. These flavours include Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter and Umami, each of which has a unique area of the tongue where it is most strongly detected:
Astringency, however, refers to the experience of slight aridity or roughness in the mouth when consuming (or just after) a particular food or drink. Often this might be used to describe the mouthfeel of wine or tea, and of course, chocolate.
Q10. How much sugar is there in a Tony’s milk chocolate bar?
0-15% (i.e. less than one teaspoon per 50g)
15-25% (i.e. about 1 teaspoon per 50g)
25-40% (i.e. about 1-2 teaspoons per 50g)
45-60% ie 2-4 teaspoons per 50g
e average amount of sugar (per 100g) in a Tony’s Chocolonely’s milk chocolate bar works out at 48.4g, compared to Pump Street (craft chocolate) where the average sugar content is 29.2g – that’s a huge difference.
Q11. What does chocolate grow on?
Chocolate grows in pods on the Theobrama Cacao Tree (and the pods emerge from flowers which emerge from the trunk of the tree before they are pollinated)
Q12. Which country claims credit for inventing couverture (couverture = “ready made chocolate” that many makers use to make bars, bonbons, etc. rather than using bars)
Oscar Callebault, a Belgian chocolate maker, claims credit for “inventing” couverture back in the 1930s. This made it far easier for chocolate companies, and all food companies, to use “ready made” chocolate couverture – and it’s only a small (but growing!) number of craft chocolate makers who work directly with cocoa farmers and their beans.
A good reason to enjoy a couple of squares of craft chocolate at the end of a meal
The discovery that even though you thought you were full, the sight, smell and taste of desert helps you find a second stomach
A reaction in your stomach that aids digestion
All of the above
Chocolate really can aid digestion and help you access your second stomach – seems too good to be true? Read more here
Q14. In which country do historians now believe was the first place chocolate was fermented, ground and made into a drink?
Archaeologists working in the highlands of Ecuador in the mid 2010s discovered evidence that the Mayo Chinchipe culture in Santa Ana-La Florida were fermenting and consuming cocoa 1,500 years before cocoa was domesticated in Mexico and Central America (note: Mexico can still lay claim to being the first place that cocoa was cultivated!)
Q15. What is LEAST important when buying a Craft Chocolate Bar?
Checking the ingredients
Knowing where the bar is crafted
Knowing the source of the beans down to the level of farm, co-operative, etc.
The colour of the packaging
If you want bars that burst with flavour, don’t contain loads of additives, protect the rainforest and ensure farmers are appropriately paid please check where, with what and how your bar is made… look beyond the branded packaging!
Q16. Where is NOT a good place to store your craft chocolate?
A CocoaRunners storage pouch in a kitchen cupboard
A tupperware box under your bed (or any other coolish and darkish place)
In your home safe
In your fridge
If there’s one place you certainly shouldn’t leave your chocolate – it’s the fridge! Keeping the chocolate in the fridge can lead to blooming…
For chocolate to melt in your mouth and release its aromas and flavours, it needs to be kept “in temper”. This means ensuring that it doesn’t undergo massive temperature swings – if you place a bar that has melted in the sun (or even been at room temperature) in a cold fridge, it may well go brittle and “out of temper”. For more, see our advice on how to store chocolate.
Q17. A chocolate bar from the deforested rainforest emits more than a serving of which other products?
All the above?
According to research published in Science, the worst type of chocolate (which, sadly, is almost all mass produced chocolate) emits more carbon per serving than the “average” of beef, lamb, farmed fish and prawns.
But cocoa can be farmed sustainably, and a lot of craft chocolate is actually carbon-positive (it takes carbon out of the atmosphere).
Q19. How much is the average MALE cocoa farmer’s daily wage in West Africa
US$3.00 (ie the living income benchmark)
According to research by Fairtrade International, cocoa farmers in West Africa (where most mass-produced chocolate sources cocoa) earn less than a dollar a day; less than a third of the ‘living income’ benchmark.
Q20. How much is the average FEMALE cocoa farmer’s daily wage in West Africa
US$3.00 (ie the living income benchmark)
Female cocoa farmers are working for as little as 23p a day. A staggering 60% of the world’s cocoa is grown in West Africa, and still workers are unfairly paid, this cocoa is exported and combined into the global chocolate industry, mass producing confectionery designed for supermarket shelves.
Q21. How many craft chocolate bars did we taste and evaluate at CocoaRunners in 2021?
The Cocoa Runners team have tried well over 1000 bars this year!
We taste the submissions from new makers, as well as new bars from existing makers. We review our existing library contents. And we participate in judging for competitions/awards.
For those of you able to make it to Canopy Market, Kings Cross, this weekend (the 10th, 11th and 12th of December) we really look forward to seeing you, sorting out your Christmas shopping, and delighting you with some great pairings of craft chocolate with wine, ice cream, whisky, coffee and more. As ever, the fair is free to attend, and we’ll be joined by Duffy, Bare Bones and Pump Street. And please do reserve your spot at any of the tastings and pairings HERE, and below.
For those of you unable to make it; fear not! We’ve a bunch of great pairing presents; again, see below. We’ve wines and craft chocolate; with ports, prosecco, red wine and sauternes. And we’ve also the gift that keeps on giving; 3, 6 and 12 month tasting courses of whisky and craft chocolate and also of speciality coffee and craft chocolate.
If you’ve friends or family (or if you personally) would like to dig a little deeper into the world of chocolate, and debunk a bunch of myths, may we recommend the virtual tasting we’ve just announced with Kristy Leissle. Not only will she show how West Africa is home to some amazing cocoa beans, but she’ll also dissect the real challenges of poverty and child labour in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire. Please do join us on the 25th of January!
Looking forward to seeing many of you in person at Canopy, and virtually at our tastings pre and post Christmas (see HERE for an overview of many of them).
Join us for another Craft Chocolate weekend at Canopy Market from Friday the 10th until Sunday 12th of December – the perfect time to make a dent in your Christmas shopping list and to indulge in some little festive treats for yourself.
Canopy Market is a weekly independent market at King’s Cross, held under a beautifully restored Victorian glass and steel roof. A wonderful environment for a weekend of sensory exploration.
Following the sell out of all the events at our takeover in October, we will once again be hosting an array of tastings and other Christmas-y activities – including pottery with Sculpd and festive flower arranging with Granary Square!
Events: Talks & Tastings
Our events, which include talks and tastings from a experts in whisky, flower arranging, wine, coffee, pottery and more. require pre-booking and payment. Find more details and our comprehensive list of events below…
We’ll be recording these events so that those who can’t make it in person can enjoy the experience too — please register to virtually enjoy these events on this form.
Welcome to the Craft Chocolate Revolution! (Fri, Sat, Sun)
Allow us to welcome you into the chocolate revolution with a tasting of some of our favourite craft chocolate bars, led by one of Cocoa Runners’ chocolate experts. Through our selection of carefully crafted bars, you will learn about the intricate growing and making processes which make craft chocolate so unique.
NEW Peruvian Chocolate with Pump Street (Fri, Sat, Sun)
Tuck in to some delicious festive favourites with Pump Street as they talk us through the techniques behind their masterful new Peruvian bar – a real Christmas treat! Of course, you will get to sample their delights, fresh from their Suffolk bakery. Included will be some interesting insights into their new bar, why they chose Peruvian beans, and more about their chocolate-making processes up in Suffolk.
Ice Cream Tasting and Talk with Terri, founder of Happy Endings (Saturday only)
Before becoming an award winning icecream maker, Australian born Terri worked as a chocolatier in Australia, Spain and UK. So join her to taste some of her award winning ice creams and hear about the importance of great ingredients, including Craft Chocolate, in making artisanal icecream.
Join Rachel McCormack, best selling author, Kitchen Cabinet contributor and world renowned whisky expert as she guides us through the complex flavour profiles of three different scotch whiskies and pairs these with an array of craft chocolates. This will be a real masterclass in the art of pairing – you will come out of it knowing how to get your chocolate/whisky combinations to “sing”.
Tickets will be £15 per person.
Note: you must be over 18 to join this tasting (and be prepared to show ID!)
If you missed the sell out Virtual Wine and Chocolate Pairings we did with Corney & Barrow (wine merchants to the Queen) earlier in the year, fear not! Here is your chance to see what all the fuss was about. We’ll be tasting three wines (reds and whites), that Rebecca Palmer have paired with various dark, and dark milk, bars.
Tickets will be £15 per person which will cover the chance to try 3 wines and 5 chocolate bars!
Note: you must be over 18 to join this tasting (and be prepared to show ID!)
Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a bespoke piece of pottery – made by yourself, of course. So bring the family and come along to a pottery class with Sculpd! And don’t worry if you’re a beginner, Sculpd specialise in making pottery more accessible with their air-dry clay starter kits available to buy online!
Seasonal Floral Arrangement with Catherine Rice (Sunday only)
Sustainable florist and “Chelsea in Bloom” gold medalist, Catherine Rice, will be joining us from Granary Square to guide us through the creation of some seasonal decor using local British Plants. Come along to create a festive arrangements that will add a touch of Christmas cosiness to any home. You’ll learn to make your own seasonal arrangement and take it home with you.
Tickets will be £20 per person.
Taste & Flavour: Special Chocolate Tasting (Fri, Sun)
Join us for a deep dive into the fascinating science behind taste and flavour. Explore the 400 unique flavour compounds chocolate has to offer – and learn how to master the art of tasting so you can find them! Also, find out whether or not there’s a super-taster amongst your family or friend-group. This will be a live session of our latest virtual tasting, so do come along to enjoy the in-person experience.
Speciality Coffee and Craft Chocolate with Square Mile (Saturday only)
Come warm your hands on some fresh, speciality coffee with Square Mile, a London-based multi award-winning coffee roaster! This one promises to be a real treat – a great pick-me-up for any cold December afternoon. We’ll be pairing a range of their coffees with complementary craft chocolates to explore the similarities in both flavour and crafting
Discover the lesser known cocoa product that is pulp with Kate Cavallin from Cocoa Latitudes. Allow Kate to transport you away from chilly London to the warmth of a tropical rainforest. Here you will learn all about where exactly cocoa is sourced from – and you’ll be surprised to see where your favourite chocolate bar begins its life, far beyond its shiny packaging.
The Cocoa Runners team will have a stall all weekend too. We’ll have some favourites from makers who can’t attend (Omnom, Menakao, Original Beans, Taza etc.).
We will also be joined by Bare Bones, Duffy’s, and Pump Street who will be selling their bars, hot chocolates and delicious mince pies and panettone (which will also feature in one of our tastings).
It’s a great opportunity to meet the makers of your favourite bars face-to-face, share your love of their craft with them, and support their business – all whilst getting ahead on your Christmas shopping!
Alongside all of this, you’ll still be able to visit your favourite regular Canopy Market traders. The market will be fully stocked with an amazing array of fresh foods and drink, and wonderful craft creations.
Entry to the market will be FREE, so you can come along, meet the makers, and bag the best stocking-fillers London has to offer at no extra charge!
You can also leave a comment below if you have suggestions or recommendations for what you’d like to see at this next Canopy Market takeover…
We’ve been blown away by the response and support for our craft chocolate takeover of Canopy Market, that is now less than a week away; starting on Friday the 15th (from 12 to 8pm), Saturday the 16th (from 11am to 6pm) and Sunday the 17th of October (from 11am to 6pm). You can find Canopy Market HERE.
It’s free to enter, and we’ve over a dozen great makers attending from all over the UK. We also have Mikkel Friis-Holm coming over from Denmark.
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! And so only five more days to go.
Talks, Tastings, and Pairings
We’ve also a series of talks, pairings, and tastings, spread out over all three days see HERE for the full schedule and more details. Ticket prices are from £5-10 per person.
Just announced! Kate and Alice have been experimenting with the latest great new ingredient for any chocolate makers; cocoa pulp; to produce a bunch of cocktails for you to taste, and also will pair these with some new bars – TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR FRIDAY EVENING
We’ll also be holding some “Welcome to The Craft Chocolate Revolution” sessions, so you can brush up on your virtual tasting experiences – STILL A FEW TICKETS LEFT
Rachel McCormack, radio star, best selling author, and all around whisky expert, will be pairing a bunch of whiskies with craft chocolate – STILL A FEW TICKETS LEFT
How to pair craft chocolate with your book club with Kathryn Laverack – STILL A FEW TICKETS LEFT
Ida and Rebecca from Corney & Barrow will be showing how to pair wine and chocolate (both reds and whites) – STILL A FEW TICKETS – BUT ONLY ON SUNDAY
David Crichton, Master Chef finalist and creator of some amzing truffles and filled chocolate bars, will be discussing how to cook with, and use, craft chocolate at home – STILL A FEW TICKETS LEFT
Maxwell from Colonna Coffee will show how to “cup” (coffee) and pair a range of coffees with craft chocolate – SORRY; SOLD OUT
Bronwen 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 – SORRY; SOLD OUT, BUT WRITE TO US TO BE ADDED TO THE WAITLIST
Terri from Happy Endings Ice Cream will be tasting and talking about her ice cream (including her award winning ice cream sandwiches) and her long involvement with craft chocolate – SORRY; SOLD OUT, BUT WRITE TO US TO BE ADDED TO THE WAITLIST
Kate Cavallin of Cacao Latitudes will be talking about sourcing cocoa beans, discussing the ethical and environmental importance of craft chocolate, and sharing some fresh cocoa pods to taste – STILL A FEW TICKETS LEFT ON FRIDAY
“Meet the Maker” sessions, where our makers will be reviewing new beans, new bars, new inclusions and more! – STILL A FEW TICKETS LEFT FOR SATURDAY
We’ll be recording these events so that those who can’t make it in person can enjoy the experience too; please register on THIS FORM, and we’ll share links with you later.
Just to reiterate: Coming to the market, visiting the stalls and meeting the maker is all FREE. You only need to book and pay for any of the talks and tastings; SEE HERE.
We really look forward to seeing you!
And a final request: Please, please, tell your friends!
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).
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.
So what is a ‘super-taster’ (and why does it involve painting your tongue blue)?
If you paint your tongue blue you will be able to see how many fungiform papillae (a.k.a. taste receptors) you have; see the picture above. And this, in turn, may explain how sensitive you are to bitterness (and other tastes).
Way back in the 1930s, chemists and geneticists discovered a simpler way than painting peoples tongues and counting taste receptors to determine taste receptiveness. As with so many taste discoveries, it was the product of an accident. In 1931, a Dupont chemist called Arthur Fox accidentally spilled a chemical powder called PTC (phenylthiocarbamide) and was puzzled when some laboratory technicians violently reacted to the “bitter dust” they could taste whereas others had no reaction. He then worked with Albert Blakesley, a geneticist, to figure out the cause of this peculiarity; and they determined it was at least partially genetic. In the 1960s, another compound, prop (short for propylthiouracil), was discovered by Roland Fischer with similar attributes (this is the one you’ll get to try at our tastings). And then in the 1980s Linda Bartoshuk popularised the term “super-tasters” to describe the approximately 25% of the population who are very sensitive to these chemicals (women are a higher proportion) and differentiated them from the 50-60% of people who are able to detect some bitterness and the 15-25% of the population don’t detect anything from PTC or prop.
Scientists are still debating exactly what gives rise to these differences. They’ve confirmed that this ‘super tasting’ is at least partially related to the presence of a specific bitter-taste-receptor gene (TAS2R38). Indeed, before the likes of 23andMe and other genetic testing services, sensitivity to bitterness was one tool often use to detect family genetics. But there also appear to be some environmental factors too.
…and what does being a super-taster mean?
Scientists also debate the evolutionary advantages of being a super-taster and being more sensitive to bitterness. One possible advantage from a historical and evolutionary perspective is that many poisons and toxins are very alkaloid and therefore very bitter. But that’s hard to prove.
In the modern world there a range of pros and cons which are associated with being a supertaster: If you are a supertaster, you may struggle with some bitter green vegetables that are actually very good for you. You may also not enjoy some alcohols. And (good news), you may be less likely to enjoy smoking. You may also enjoy sweetness in various foods, although this is NOT about having a sweet tooth or being addicted to sugar.
It’s also important to note that we all have a lot of different taste receptors. The super-taster tests using prop and PTC test one specific bitter taste receptor. And for bitterness alone we have over 35 receptor types, and they aren’t just on our tongues (they are in our guts, reproductive organs, thyroid glands, etc.). So you may also be highly sensitive to other bitter, and indeed other tastes, too, but we don’t yet have many simple tests for this.
In the world of wine, much work has been done on how being a super-taster impacts your ability to taste wine and your wine preferences. To date the results have been unclear or not that illuminating. For example; there are various reports that suggest supertasters avoid tannic red wines because they may be too bitter, but this seems a bit simplistic and may confuse astringency and bitterness.
Super-tasting and Chocolate
As far as we know, no-one has ever carried out research on how super-tasters react to different chocolates. So we’d like to see if our new virtual tastings can (anonymously) detect any preferences or trends relating to different roasts, conches, milks and percentages in craft chocolates.
We plan to use menti.com (our interactive tool, so you can share your feedback with one another in real time on the screen even if you aren’t presenting) and some surveys.
Spoiler alert: We don’t think that appreciation of craft chocolate is really about how sweet or bitter a chocolate is. We suspect it’s more about the way that the farmer and maker have coaxed out different flavours from their beans. But perhaps you’ll help us with a new scientific discovery and breakthrough. So we’d LOVE your help to do some live research on this. And we can promise the opportunity to try some really great craft chocolates. And no blue tongues!
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