Tasting Chocolate or Tasting Sugar?

I held a chocolate tasting with 8 of my friends, and my goal of this chocolate tasting was to assess my friends’ preferences regarding cacao and sugar content. I selected 6 varieties of chocolate containing cacao percentages ranging from 11% to 95%. My theory was that people would prefer chocolate that contains more sugar per serving and less cacao. I believed this to be true because of the way modern Western society thinks about sugar. The results highlighted Western society’s taste for sugar, but they also illustrated other ideas related to what we have been studying.

I tried to create a controlled experiment by removing wrappers and breaking each bar into similar sized pieces. I put the chocolate samples into bowls and had my friends begin with Sample 6, the darkest sample, because of what Professor Martin mentioned in class.

Like the process Barb Stuckey writes about when tasting food, I wanted the subjects to taste the food from “two different perspectives.” First, to “think critically about what [they] taste” and second “to consider whether [they] like it or not” (Stuckey, 134). Following this guideline, I had comment cards for each sample where my friends would write about what they tasted and on the back rank how much they liked the sample from a scale of 1 to 5.

IMG_4358.jpg
The samples arranged from least to most cacao (left to right).

After the test was finished, I averaged the rankings into a decimal value. I first will present the results of the experiment, and then I will analyze the results. In lieu of including every comment, I will list any words that appeared more than once, or any descriptors that stand out in the context of what we have been learning in class. Many of the comments touch upon social and historical issues regarding the history of chocolate in America and the world.

THE RESULTS:

SAMPLE 1: Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar:  Hersheybar

Cacao: 11%

Sugar: 24g per serving

Average taste ranking: 3.05

Frequent descriptions: sweet (5), hersheys (2), waxy (2)

Notable descriptions: “God, heaven, promised land,” “tastes the most like chocolate”, “sour, milk”

SAMPLE 2:  Chocolove XOXOX Milk chocolate 176046b9870bda4f8b0a145311f326ac.jpg

Cacao: 33%

Sugar: 16g per 1/3 bar

Average taste ranking: 3.74

Frequent descriptions: creamy (4), smooth (2), caramel (3), sweet (3), sugary (2)

Notable descriptions: “aggressively sweet aftertaste,” “luxurious,” “melts in mouth”

SAMPLE 3: Original Lily’s Dark Chocolate Lilys-Original_WS_LLR1

Cacao: 55%

Sugar: less than 1g, sweetened with Stevia**

Average taste ranking: 3.36

Frequent descriptions: sweet (3), coconut (3), not bad (2), simple/one-note (2)

Notable descriptions: “no kick” “not as bad but still not good”

SAMPLE 4: Raaka Smoked Chai 

Cacao: 66%41RLxHTcxsL

Sugar: 10g per half bar

Average taste ranking:  3.67

Frequent descriptions: sweet (6), vanilla (3)

Notable descriptions: “maybe 60% cocoa,” “chalky texture”

SAMPLE 5: GREEN & BLACK’S Organic DARK 85% green-blacks-organic-85-percent-dark-cacao-bar.jpg

Cacao: 85%

Sugar: 5g per 12 pieces

Average taste ranking: 2.78

Frequent descriptions: bitter (3), fruity (2), citrusy (2),

Notable descriptions: “hard to take a big bite”

SAMPLE 6: Taza Wicked Dark 95% wicked_dark_bar_large

Cacao: 95%

Sugar: 2g per ½ packaging

Average taste ranking: 1.64

Frequent descriptions:  bitter (3), sour (3), chalky (2), acidic (2)

Notable descriptions: “can still taste it 5 minutes later,” “earthy,” “almost like black coffee,” “This is Taza”

A brief video of my friends’ reaction to the very dark chocolate

ANALYSIS OF RESULTS:

Based on taste preferences, the group liked the chocolate in this order:

Sample 2 (33%), Sample 4 (66%), Sample 3 (55%), Sample 1 (11%), Sample 5 (85%), Sample 6 (95%)

My original theory was not exactly correct – people did not like the Hershey’s chocolate the most. However, my hypothesis that milk chocolate was favored over dark chocolate remains true. The two darkest varieties of chocolate were ranked last, and the highest ranked chocolate was milk chocolate.

First and foremost, I would like to analyze the involvement of sugar and how that relates to chocolate as well as the distinguishable taste of Hershey’s chocolate.

HERSHEY’S IS DISTINCTIVE:

398px-Hershey's_Chocolate_World.jpg
Hershey’s is such a distinctive brand, there are stores fully devoted to selling it.

Hershey’s chocolate (Sample 1) was the most polarizing, with a scale from 0.5 (Although the scale started at 1, I included this piece of data anyway) to a 5. No other sample had both the lowest and highest ranking. I believe that the polarizing nature of Hershey’s comes from both the high sugar content and the unique ingredients.

In his book Hershey, Michael D’Antonio writes that “Hershey’s milk chocolate has had a distinct flavor. It is sweet… but it also carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect of Schmalbach’s process.” (D’Antonio, 108) The comment “sour milk” reflects that flavor. Hershey’s is certainly distinctive. I want to address the two notable comments, “God, heaven, promised land” and “tastes the most like chocolate.”  D’Antonio writes that Hershey’s “define[s] the taste of chocolate for Americans” (D’Antonio, 108). My tasting proved that for at least two of my friends, this idea is true.

SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE:

Robert Albritton, in “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry” writes that “Sweetness is the most desired taste to the point that many if not most people can easily be caught up in an ‘excessive appetite for it.’” Americans consume about 31 teaspoons of added sugars every day, he writes (Albritton, 343). According to Albritton, “the addictive quality of sugar can be compared to that of cigarettes.” (Albritton, 343).

My mother finds sugar incredibly addictive. She has combated sugar’s negative health effects by avoiding all added sugar all year except for her birthday. I asked her to tell me about her experience with sugar…

“In college, after a night out, we decided to get a midnight snack. For me it ended up being an entire ice cream pie. Even though I felt sick about a third of the way through, I couldn’t stop eating it until there was none left. I decided that night that I would never eat sweets again—or anything with processed sugar if I could avoid it. Then I decided I could have sugar once a year-on my birthday. To me, the idea of eating a few M&M’s and then stopping is impossible. It is FAR easier to eat no sweets, rather than sweets in moderation. The hardest day of the year to continue this is the day after my birthday. I wake up wanting M&M’s. The rest of the year it’s easy. I don’t crave sweets or feel I’m missing out. Zero is easier then some.”

For most people, cutting out sugar completely is not the answer because it is very hard to do. Added sugar is in everything. But the facts are there—Americans eat too much sugar, and diabetes and obesity are on the rise. What is one to do?

From scientific and anecdotal evidence, it is clear that sugar is addictive and unhealthy in excess. So why isn’t the government doing anything about it? This question leads us to examine the role of government as a whole. In fact, according to Albritton, the sugar industry has an enormous impact on legislation passed by congress. He mentions the 2003 instance where the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) proposed that “added sugars should not exceed 10 percent of daily calorie intake.” However, “this was too much for the US sugar industry to swallow, and they threatened to lobby congress to cut off its $400,000 annual funding of the WHO and FAO if they did not remove the offending norm from their report” (Albritton, 345). And in fact, the UN did remove the guideline. This one example highlights a larger problem – the sugar industry is massive and can control parts of the government. Since the government currently is unable to provide solutions to the “obesity pandemic,” I believe that the next best thing is to educate children about what they are eating and try and provide affordable healthy options. This idea is obviously a much more complex problem, and requires much more thought and analysis than this one blog post. However, one potential solution for excessive sugar intake is sugar substitutes.

STEVIA AS A REPLACEMENT:

As a sort of experiment within my tasting, I included a sample that was sweetened with Stevia rather than sugar. Stevia is a plant-based zero-calorie sweetener. Stevia, like other

1280px-Stevia_plant.jpg
The Stevia plant that the sweetener is derived from.

artificial sweeteners, is between 100 and 300 times sweeter than sugar (Stevia, 2017). Sample 3, containing 55% Cacao and no sugar was ranked 3rd overall in the results. Many of the comments about Sample 3 included some variation of “simple.” After trying it myself, I must agree that the flavor is not very nuanced – once on your tongue there is no evolution. However, not one person questioned the contents of this bar or noted that it tasted fake, a common criticism of artificial sweeteners. According to the testers, this chocolate fit in with the others, and during the taste test, none of them knew it was sweetened with Stevia. While scientists and nutritionists debate the merits and side effects of artificial sweeteners, this Stevia sweetened chocolate bar appears to be an alternative for a person trying to limit sugar intake. Artificial sweeteners do not address the larger problems with the sugar industry. However, this experiment has shown that there are other options for those trying to eat less “real” sugar, and they taste pretty good too! One other caveat is the price point of this chocolate bar—At Whole Foods it cost $4.89, compared to a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar that costs $0.98 at Walmart, so these alternatives are not accessible to everyone.

 

WHY ELSE CHOCOLOVE WON?

After analyzing the comments, I believe that sugar and sweetness was not the only reason Chocolove was ranked the highest.

David Benton in The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving posits that chocolate cravings come from the “sensory experience associated with eating chocolate, rather than pharmacological constituents” (Benton, 214).

According to Benton, the optimal combination of sugar and fat for palatability “was found to be 7.6% sugar with cream containing 24.7% fat” (Benton, 214). Chocolate contains way more than the “optimal” amount of sugar for taste, however, more sugar is needed “to counteract the bitterness of chocolate.”

Therefore, milk chocolate has “the optimal combination of sweetness and fat.”

Benton also refers to “the melting of chocolate just below body temperature with the resulting mouth-feel,” which adds to the “hedonic experience” and thus the pleasure of eating chocolate. The comments about Sample 2, the Chocolove bar are consistent with this data—this winning chocolate was mostly referenced as creamy, with a note about “melts in mouth.” In direct opposition with those comments, the highest cacao content bar (Sample 6) had notes about its texture too. Many listed it is “chalky.” To me, it is grainy. Chalky and grainy are the opposite of smooth and melty, so perhaps this texture contributed to people’s not liking it.

CONCLUSIONS

Overall, this tasting resulted in new ideas and affirmed old ones.

Some other details of this not-so-scientific study may be important to note. My taste testers were all in between the ages of 18 and 20 and all grew up consuming American chocolate. I expect the results might have changed with people from other countries.

If I were just focusing on cacao content, it would have been more effective to use different bars from the same brand. However, I wanted to look at other aspects of chocolate, like stevia as a sweetener and texture, which was why I used a variety of brands. In fact, subjects commented on the terroir of the chocolate without even realizing. Sample 3 and Sample 5 both had comments about flavors that were not listed in the ingredients, illustrated how flavor can be affected by many different things. In Sample 3, three people noted a “coconut” flavor that does not appear in the ingredients. For Sample 5, four people tasted fruity or citrusy notes Even those untrained in chocolate could pick up different notes in different bars of chocolates.

Finally, although some comments mentioned aftertaste, I did not instruct the testers to think about it or aroma. I should have, as they contribute to the overall experience of chocolate.

The testing and subsequent conversations with friends revealed the way chocolate and sugar fit into our lives. In today’s society, we crave sugar, and this study showed that chocolates containing more sugar were perceived as “better” than those containing very little.

The leftovers from the tasting further illustrate the preference for milk chocolate. In the tasting, most people did not finish the full piece of Sample 5 or 6. After the tasting was finished, I offered the leftover samples to everyone, and Samples 1, 2 and 3 were gone almost immediately. Even though Hershey’s chocolate ranked lower on the scale, people ate more of it. Based off of this tasting and conversations with friends and family, Chocolate is hard to resist and even harder to stop eating once we start. The results reflect America’s obsession with sugar by the less distinctive higher fat/sugar chocolate being ranked higher.

Benton argues that addiction may not be the correct word in the context of chocolate “Most people eat chocolate on a regular basis without any signs of its getting out of control, without signs of tolerance or dependence” (Benton, 215). Yet, from my personal experience and that of my friends, many of us do have a problem with chocolate eating getting out of control. I asked my sister what happens when she eats chocolate.

“If it’s in front of me, especially when I have no energy to control myself, I just eat it all. I can’t eat just some,” she said. My twin brother said the same: “For me, sugar is addictive in the very short term; once I start eating I can’t stop.”

800px-10_month_old_baby_eating_chocolate
Even babies love chocolate!

A friend from the tasting talked about the same thing. “Usually I eat more than I planned to,” my friend Simone said. For some, dark chocolate can circumvent this overeating issue. My friend Rachel said about chocolate: “I love chocolate. But if it’s super rich. I love it for a bit and then I’m done.”

Overall, the testing showed that most people prefer milk chocolate and chocolate containing more sugar over very dark chocolate, highlighting issues with the sugar industry.

 

SOURCES

Albritton, Robert. “Between Obesity and Hunger: The Capitalist Food Industry.” Food and Culture. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2013. 342-51. Print.

Benton, David. “The Biology and Psychology of Chocolate Craving.” Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2004. 205-19. Print.

“Comprehensive Online Resource for Articles, Recipes & News.” Stevia.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2017.

D’Antonio, Michael. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

Stuckey, Bark. Taste What You’re Missing: the Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Food Tastes Good. New York: Free Press, 2012. Print.

Image sources:

Image 1: My photography

Image 2:  Wikipedia. Hershey bar wrapper image. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hershey_bar.

Image 3:  Jet.Chocolove XOXOX Milk bar. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. jet.com/product/Chocolove-XOXO-Milk-Chocolate-Bar-32-oz/dfd113b9fd134cca9e6a2c1c4d7f187f.

Image 4:  Lily’s Sweets. Lily’s Dark Chocolate Bar Wrapper. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://lilyssweets.com/dark-chocolate-bars/

Image 5:  Amazon. Raaka Smoked Chai Bar. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://www.amazon.com/Raaka-Smoked-Chai-Cacao-Chocolate/dp/B00QOU89I0

Image 6:  Green And Black. Organic 85% Cacao Bar Wrapper.Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. http://us.greenandblacks.com/organic-85-dark-cacao-bar.html

Image 7: Taza Chocolate. Wicked Dark Chocolate Wrapper. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://www.tazachocolate.com/products/wicked-dark

Image 8: Supercarwaar. Hershey World Outside.Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHershey’s_Chocolate_World.jpg

Image 9:Robert Lynch. Stevia Plant Leaf. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://pixabay.com/en/stevia-leaf-sugar-plant-sweetness-74187/

Image 10:  Maurajbo. Baby Wit Chocolate on Face. Media Image (Jpeg). Web. 05.03.17. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:10_month_old_baby_eating_chocolate.jpg

 

 

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