Beyond tasting… and experiment between dark chocolate, milk chocolate and aromas

I remember my first wine tasting exercise. They made us smell several aromas samples with our eyes blinded. I remember feeling a frustration by the fact that i could find the smell familiar, however I could not  name it.  As soon, as I could see the ingredient with my eyes,  everything made sense.  Since then I have been fascinated by the fact of how we experience flavors. Most of the time we think that all the experience happens in our mouths, but we forget of our other senses, especially our sense of smell.


Inspired by the sensory examination of wine, I decided to do an experiment with chocolate. I asked eight people to taste dark chocolate (70% cacao) and milk chocolate paired with six different smells. I wanted to know if different aromas have an impact on the taste of the chocolate.

choclate 1

Taste as Barb Stuckey  claims, is a complex process.  Humans can technically proven to taste four qualities: “Homo sapiens can detect using our tongue alone: sweet, bitter, salt and unami… anything other than sweet, sour, bitter, salt and unami is experienced through another sense: smell, touch, sight or sound”  (Stuckey, p5) The last one has not been well explored yet. Unami is often associated with savory tastes such as meaty and savory.


One important thing that I found out while doing this taste experiment to eight people was the fact that taste has to do a lot with confidence and practice. Most of the people expressed that they were not good at describing their flavors at the beginning. Some people will say things like “this just taste like chocolate to me”. However, as I encouraged them to express their thoughts, and as they  did more tastings, the descriptions started to be more bold and diverse.  For example, some people started to use sophisticated descriptions such as chalky, roasted coconut, peanuts, paper, fruity and creamy flavor descriptions.

“I began to trust my palate and became less terrified of voicing my opinions as I tasted prototypes alongside them” Stuckey recalls after practicing more her tasting skills. Practicing and comparing flavors can be useful to become more comfortable at describing taste.

“The more experience you have tasting a particular food, the better you will be able to recognize and analyze it. Your ability to identify both tastes and smells improves with repeated exposure” (Stuckey, p10)

Another thing that I noticed from this experiment is that being an Hyper Taster  does not make you a better judge of flavors. Whenever I have guests over for food I have to be aware of they flavor preferences. For example, I know several people who can’t stand the taste of cilantro, certain spices or even the flavor of cheese.

According to the taste buds of our tongues, There are three types of tasters: Hyper Tasters, Tasters and Tolerant Taster. Hyper Tasters are far in the right and are very sensitive to the tastes in their tongue. They suppose to have forty buds of more, and are technically more sensitive to taste. The opposite is with the tolerant tasters,  which only have up to 15 buds in their tongues. As Stuckey says the name Hyper Tasters is extremely misleading, because it gives the false notion that they posses better tasting qualities than the rest, which is not always the case.

It is possible that we acquire taste preferences by experiences or even genetic aspects. “The reality is that some people are actually more sensitive tasters than others. But those who are more sensitive tasters are not necessarily better tasters, chefs, or home cooks.” (Stuckey, p10)

For example, one of the persons who tasted the both of the chocolates, said that her preference was milk chocolate, but her notes showed more diversity on the dark chocolate sheet.  In other words, certain preferences of flavors does not limit your perception of flavor.

The way taste works is a fascinated process that goes beyond our taste buds. “Taste happens in your mouth, but that’s only about 20 percent of the story. Food that tastes good also looks good, smells good, and sounds good. That means that a lot of what we taste comes through the four non taste senses” (Stuckey, p13)

Since some argue that only five percent of the tasting experience comes from eating, and the rest comes from the remaining sensorial inputs, mostly aromas; in my experiment wanted to see if smelling different aromas could affect  the tasting experience of dark and milk chocolate.

“Some say that only 5 percent of what we experience when eating is input from our sense of taste. They think that the remaining sensory input- the vast majority- is aroma, which we detect with our nose. Yes, most of what you think you taste is actually smell” (Stuckey, p29)

choclate 3


The experiment asked eight people to  first smell an item starting from the herbal to the tobacco. After they were asked to describe the physical qualities of each piece of chocolate: Appearance, aromas, body, taste and aftertaste. I selected six distinctive aromas: mint, berries, ginger, orange peel, coffee and tobacco.


The average results of the flavors are resumed in the following graph:

choclate 2

Black vs Milk

 “Chocolate is an important food appreciated by consumers all over the world. The complex of semi-solid chocolate is composed of sugar, cocoa liquor,  butter, lecithin formula, particularly, two basic commodity forms of chocolate ie. dark and milk, have many differences in their ingredients and sensory properties, which highly influences the eating behavior of consumers” (J Liu et al.)

Most of the people found more impact of the aromas on the flavor of dark chocolate. This is perhaps because it  contains less sugar than the milk chocolate.  Most of the results for the milk chocolate were constantly described as creamy, sweet and sweet.


Other interesting findings:


  • Most people associated  fruitiness flavor after smelling mint, orange peel and berries in the dark chocolate..
  • Sweetness was associated after smelling ginger paired with dark chocolate.
  • Most people associated bitter taste after smelling tobacco paired with the dark chocolate.
  • Most of the people found that the coffee aroma neutralized their tasting buds, which is interesting because in  perfume shops coffee is used to neutralize smell when smelling different perfumes.


Pairing chocolate with different aromas, can definitely change the your flavor perception. This support the fact that the tasting experience goes beyond of what happens with the tasting buds. In fact smells and visuals, can change your perception of the flavor of chocolate. Although milk chocolate can be perceived as more smooth and creamy, dark chocolate allows for more diversity in flavor because of the lack of sugar that is included in it formula.


Consulted works:
Liu, Jianbin ; Liu, Mengya ; He, Congcong ; Song, Huanlu ; Guo, Jia ; Wang, Ye ; Yang, Haiying ; Su, Xiaoxia
“A comparative study of aroma‐active compounds between dark and milk chocolate: relationship to sensory perception”Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2015, Vol.95(6), pp.1362-1372
Stuckey, Barb. “Taste: What you’re missing” Free press. New York 2012

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