Tag Archives: chocolatetasting

A chocolate tasting, connecting people through food

Introduction

The conquistadors may have invaded Mesoamerica in the 1500s, but chocolate has invaded the hearts and minds of individuals around the world ever since. Once a commodity meant for the royalty of England, chocolate has evolved over the centuries to become accessible by virtually everyone in the developed world, regardless of class or their geography. Although it certainly helped, this evolution wasn’t caused by the typical factors of production simply making chocolate cheaper; it was done through capitalistic marketing over the centuries, creating holidays and products, widening appeal while maintaining the idea of self-indulgence. Today, chocolate has it’s hold across industries and products unlike any other(Allen), depending on the context, its marketed as healthy yet indulgent(Howe), romantic yet for juveniles, a stimulant yet a stress reliever. Just searching twitter briefly and you will see the dynamics of the good.

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Any mention of chocolate is sure to entice happiness or excitement(Nehlig), which is exactly what happened when I offered to host a chocolate tasting to a few friends. I wanted to test people’s perception of chocolate in relation to its labeling and marketing. By using five different varieties of chocolate bars from different brands, stores, and additives, I hoped to find out what people thought of chocolates without knowing where it comes from, and if that’s different than the perception when they are aware of its branding and everything in accompany. The results were curious, and what was more interesting was the social interaction that came about it.

The Set Up

            I had 5 different chocolates, and thus 5 different note cards. In order to truly compare the affects of marketing, I had a few of my friends act as subjects partake in a half-blind tasting. For ever chocolate, half of the tasters saw the labeling or packaging the chocolate came in and the other half didn’t. Because I had 7 different chocolates, I had 7 rounds of taste testing. After every round, I had the subjects write what they thought about the chocolate, as well as provide any comments on what they tasted. Lastly, I had them rate the chocolate on a 1-5 scale with 1 being bad and 5 being extraordinarily good. I’ll make note that the subjects could best be described as “novice” in their experience with chocolate tasting and perhaps even “drunk” to describe their physical state. Nevertheless, I feel that this is irrelevant as these chocolates are marketed specifically the particular demographic of my subjects. It wouldn’t make sense to test the impact of marketing or taste if the marketing wasn’t aimed at the subjects. Each chocolate was presented similarly, and the tasters were encouraged to keep comments to themselves until after they wrote them down.  Here are the chocolates’ pictures here (Plus two more that I didn’t get to use), I took it myself.

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The Chocolates

Five chocolate bars were used, they were:

  • “The dark chocolate lover’s chocolate bar”, Smooth and fruity, From trader Joe’s, 85% cacao, Colombian
  • “Chocolove, Orange peel in Dark Chocolate”, from cardullo’s, 55%
  • “West Africa Dark Chocolate”, Neuhaus, 52%, from caudullos
  • “Potato chip”, chuao chocolatier, milk chocolate, from cardullo’s
  • Raaka Virgin chocolate with coconut milk, 60% cacao, from cardullo’s

Results

The first interesting part of the tasting was the expressed assumptions about the chocolates used. Some assumed the chocolates were of a relatively higher quality and expensive without any suggestion of such from myself. I had to make clear that most of these chocolates were bought locally and are reasonably priced in Harvard Square.

The first chocolate tasted was the “Dark Chocolate Lovers” from Trader Joes. Comments received by the blind tasters were:

  • “Distinct, fruity taste 3/5”
  • “Smells better than it tastes 3/5”
  • “Very bitter, a bit harsh 2/5”

Comments received by those who read the label were:

  • “Fruitiness coming through nicely, dark but not unpleasantly so, less than I would have expected 4/5”
  • “Dark, but smooth 4/5”

Outside the written comments, one taster asked me why in the world the producers of the chocolate bar wouldn’t add sugar with obvious disgust and disappointment in their first sample. I take this all to mean an obvious and distinct expectation when one consumes chocolate, but if warned, it can still be enjoyed, as shown by the non-blind tasters. This is important as you consider what chocolate “should” taste like to people, and also explains the subtle, yet blaringly intentional warning about the intensity of dark chocolate.

The next chocolate tasted was the one made with coconut milk, comments of the blind tasters were:

  • “I don’t like coconut 2/5”
  • “Smoother and milkier, toasted-tasting, somewhat lower acidity 3/5”
  • “Milk chocolate and solid 3.5/5”

Comments received by the non-blind tasters were:

  • “Milky and sweet 4”
  • “Milky and coconutty 4”

With such a rich coconut flavor, one’s opinion of this chocolate can very well be conditional on your opinion of coconut. It was rated poorly by members of both groups of tasters, and was merely average otherwise. Still, the comments weren’t as particularly harsh as some of the other chocolates, but was still rated as one of the worst ones. When reading the label to the non-blind tasters, they seemed excited to try a taste of it, but were seemingly left largely disappointed. I take these results to show that people will not conform tastes and preferences for what looks or sounds good. What’s emphasized in this round is that there is an extent to which people will enjoy additives to chocolate, even if they enjoy the additive on its own.

The third chocolate tasted was the West African Dark Chocolate, comments from the blind tasters were:

  • “Taste like cocoa butter 4/5”
  • “Semisweet and quite creamy 4/5”

Comments from the non-tasters were:

  • “Milkier, more palatable 3/5”
  • “I like it! But it doesn’t taste expensive 4/5”

At 52% cacao, I feel this chocolate plays to the robust, earthy taste associated with dark chocolate while satisfying the need for sweetness associated with chocolate in general. It contrasts to the first dark chocolate tasted and seemed to be more widely enjoyed. The two non-blind tests commenting on its cheap taste and greater palpability would assume a deviation from their expectations about the chocolate based off the labeling. However, this deviation was taken as a good one, evident by the high ratings. I would hypothesize that the high sugar content enabled the dark chocolate to taste smoother and sit easily on the palate, which made both groups happy.

The fourth chocolate was the bar with Orange peel, comments of the blind tasters were:

  • “Fruit works nicely in the chocolate 5/5”
  • “Too dang fruity, 3/5”
  • “Fruitier than I prefer, but I like the crunch 3/5”

Comments received by the non-blind tasters were

  • “ love the crunch, 5/5”
  • “don’t like the orange 2/5”
  • “Orange really makes it bitter 2/5”

Much like the second chocolate bar tasted, which was made with coconut milk, a lot of the opinions came down to the favorability of orange in the chocolate. Some loved it, other despised it, and those thoughts came separate of prior knowledge of its presence. If anything, looking at these two bars makes me wonder if those who were expecting the coconut or orange flavor had a set expectation of it’s taste in their mind, and the bitterness associated with this tasting and the milkiness associated with the second tasting was off putting. If this were true, it would make more sense for marketers to set expectations on the product more clearly, if only to surpass said expectations, rather than deviating from them.

The fifth chocolate tasted was one with potato chips added, creating an exceptionally sweet and salty taste. Comments of the blind tasters were:

  • “yum 4/5”
  • “Does this have potato chips? Yum! 5/5

Comments received by the non-blind tasters were

  • “liked it 4/5”
  • “Salt and texture complemented chocolate, super sweet, not rich 4/5”

Considering this was the last chocolate tasted while I had planed to do two more, I wonder if the subjects were suffering from fatigue, as seen in their short and generic answers. Regardless, this chocolate was well liked, and probably the most liked of all the chocolates tasted. For the non-blind tasters, I think the texture was a pleasant surprise, even when they knew what was inside. And for the blind tasters, the sweet and saltiness was thoroughly enjoyed. What I learned from this round is that a well done chocolate product often surprises and fulfills the customer, the surprise in this case came from the salt and the sense of fulfillment came from the sweetness from the milk chocolate content.

Thoughts and Conclusion

While hosting a small chocolate tasting was fun, it was more fun for me to see the interactions people had with chocolate while tasting them. It wasn’t hard to convince the subjects to participate in a tasting, but the hard part was teasing out their thoughts, which became harder as the night went on. Nevertheless, everyone involved had fun, and it seemed as if the chocolate connected the subjects to one another as they talked about what they tasted and how they felt. I’ve been to wine, cheese, and chili tastings, and I can’t say the same connectivity was felt there, something about chocolate and it’s Mesoamerican roots makes it something special in a way words cannot articulate.

Of course, that’s not to say nothing could be improved, if I were to do this all again, I would sit down the subjects and provide a bit more background on the tasting, teach them what to taste for and how to taste, as well as require a bit more thorough responses across the board. I also would have liked to test at least two more chocolates, just to get a wider variety, my subjects got pretty full of chocolate by 5th round, and essentially refused to go continue. Regardless, I feel that I found results that at least started to explain the questions I had.

Fundamentally, I saw how someone’s perception of the quality of a chocolate bar could change if reality dealt a hard blow to their expectations. It seems it’s almost better for the chocolate producers to have their consumers have 0 expectations as oppose to any, because missing those expectations could mean dissatisfying the consumer. While this thought concept might lead a marketer to cut back on their marketing in order to stem high expectations, the opposite ought to occur as there is a very high premium on meeting expectations set by the consumer, or surprising them in a pleasant, satisfying fashion. Either way, you can draw out a few key points:

  • The success or failure of a chocolate bar relies in consumer’s perception going into the tasting.
  • Additives can help compliment the product, but nobody likes it when it’s overbearing.
  • Sugar always helps
  • If you present your product as dark, give them dark, but give them what they really want (sweet)

In today’s society, chocolate is inescapable, it can be found in smoothies, candies, ice creams, nature bars, cereals, covering fruits, and even in alcohol. It makes sense that the average American eats 11 pounds of it a year, and is a 100-billion-dollar industry. How we interact with it is important, because we don’t interact with chocolate like most consumer goods. Examining this concept was fun, but I know there could deeper research done on the topic.

Works Cited

CNBC’s Katy Barnato and Luke Graham. “Future of the Chocolate Industry Looks Sticky.”CNBC, CNBC, 24 Mar. 2016, http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/24/future-of-the-chocolate-industry-looks-sticky.html.

@crewefoodfest. “ tooth? ? or just a little treat… Infusion at 27th & 28th May” twitter, 4 May 2018., https://twitter.com/CreweFoodFest/status/992377201449369601

@HealingMB “Eating chocolate while studying helps the brain retain new information easily and is directly linked to high test scores ” twitter, 4 May 2018,. https://twitter.com/HealingMB/status/991743847070871553

James howe. “Chocolate and Cardiovascular Health: The Kuna Case Reconsidered.” Gastronomica, vol. 12, no. 1, 2012, pp. 43–52. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/gfc.2012.12.1.43.

Nehlig, Astrid. Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and the Brain. CRC Press, 2004.

Allen, Lawrence. Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle for the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers .

Martin, Carla. “The Rise in Big Chocolate and the Race for the Global Market.”

 

 

Tracing Terroir: Unpacking Taste, Identity, and Origins in Chocolate

Terroir in Chocolate
Terroir is a quality in a food product that synthesizes genetics, location, and human intervention to evoke a “sense of place.” This blog post discusses the notions of terroir in chocolate and the multiple layers of chocolate origins, as well as explores the concepts firsthand with a chocolate tasting that tests whether these factors are discernible to the average consumer in the final product.

To describe terroir in chocolate is to recognize the interconnected web of relationships that produce chocolate: from its raw state and growing conditions to the manufacturing process and final moment of consumption and appreciation (Nesto 131). Flavor begins with the genetics of cacao and its precursors are “translated” during the fermentation process into distinguishable characteristics (Presilla 117). Environmental conditions—climate, soil type, topography, surrounding plants—and the chocolate-making process further affects how this cacao flavor is expressed (Martin 2018). In addition, human interaction with cacao influences how terroir is expressed. The final chocolate product embodies a series of actions that shape the final flavor: from deciding when to harvest and choosing certain cacao pods to balancing mucilage-to-seed ratios during the fermentation process and manipulating texture and aroma with roasting and grinding (Nesto 134). For instance, in areas where cacao is harvested during the rainy season, drying the seeds in the sun is not a reliable option. Artificial drying methods, such as over wood fires, infuse smoky and deeply-roasted flavors into the cacao beans, which would not appear in cacao beans from other places where harvest occurs in a warmer, sunnier climate (Presilla 117). Essentially, terroir reflects the identity of the chocolate and its origins.

Exploring terroir in chocolate starts with examining the place where cacao beans originate.

While terroir in chocolate is an emerging concept, the notion is well-established and widely recognized in the world of viticulture. Like wine grapes, cocoa beans exhibit detectable and distinct flavors between different types and terroirs (Leissle 23). Yet, while parallels can be drawn between the two agricultural products, the comparisons are only useful to a certain point (Presilla 126). The differences between viticulture and enology with cacao cultivation and chocolate-making highlight why terroir is more difficult to express in the latter field. Firstly, concerning genetics, the form of grapevines reflects inherent genetic qualities and each grape is genetically identical to each other. In contrast, the exact connection is tenuous between gene markers and physical morphology in cacao pods. Moreover, in a single cacao tree, cacao pods are not genetically identical to each other (Nesto 133). Secondly, the system of regulation and labeling of raw-material origin is more consistent and widespread for wine-producing grapes than it is for chocolate-producing cacao (Nesto 134). Lastly, growing grapes and producing wine are often done in close proximity to each other, allowing for more control throughout the process. This is certainly not the case with chocolate.

Parallels are often drawn between viticulture and enology with cacao cultivation and chocolate-making, but the comparisons are only analogous to a certain point.

There is a physical and figurative divide “between tree and mouth” that obstructs the expression of terroir in chocolate (Leissle 22).  As cacao travels thousands of miles from tropical growing zones to factories in Europe and North America, the ability to reflect cacao’s origin in the final chocolate product becomes increasingly difficult (Nesto 132; Leissle 22). The place of manufacture often subsumes the place of bean origin (Leissle 23). Closer proximity between cultivation and manufacturing, in addition to fewer transfers of ownership, would begin to narrow this gap (Nesto 132). With more control throughout the entire cacao-to-chocolate chain, terroir—or the “sense of place” of chocolate—can be better preserved (Nesto 135).

Chocolate Origins
Chocolate reflecting its cacao bean origins is a relatively new topic of collective interest. Historically, chocolatiers believed blending beans from many different places yielded a more desirable chocolate. In addition, in the past, consumers did not express interest in origin-labeled chocolate. “Single-origin” chocolates began to appear in the U.S. market in 1984 during the growing food movement of eating local and learning about food provenance (Leissle 23; Netso 134). To illustrate the nascent bean-to-bar craft: in 1997, there was only one artisanal chocolate maker selling commercial bean-to-bar chocolate in the U.S. (Leissle 23). Today, twenty years later, there are nearly 200 chocolate makers in this category, demonstrating a continued growing interest in where the beans in chocolate come from (Wiley 2017).

“Single-origin” is the name applied to chocolate made solely with beans from a particular plantation, area, or country (Leissle 23). Other terms include “exclusive-derivation,” “single variety,” “grand cru,” and “estate grown” (Presilla 126; Leissle 23). To the experienced taster, the advantage of a single-origin chocolate is that all the subtleties of its terroir will be distinct. Yet, it is important to note that, single-variety chocolate does not necessarily mean higher quality. No matter the origin, if the beans are of poor quality, the chocolate will be too (Presilla 128).

In contrast to single-origin bars is chocolate made with blends of cacao beans of different types or from different geographical areas. While blending is often associated with anonymous chocolate of corporate mass-producers, the craft of blending is pre-Columbian and does not necessarily have to be “anonymous” or of low quality (Presilla 126). Both single-origin and blended cacao beans are legitimate approaches to chocolate-making—neither method is necessarily better than the other. Yet, across both chocolate-making processes, there is a dearth of labeling of the cacao’s origins—whether a single area or multiple (Presilla 128).

Cacao beans vary by strain–such as Criollo, Forastero, or Trinitario–or geographic area.

Chocolate Tasting: A Sense of Place
A chocolate tasting seemed like an apt opportunity to further explore terroir and bean origins in chocolate. The chocolate availability at Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe in Harvard Square, a purveyor of specialty foods, had the most impact on the final sample selections. There were not enough bars produced in the same area as the bean origin to conduct a tasting. In addition, the store only displayed one chocolate bar made with West African cacao beans and was out of stock at the time of purchase. The majority of the world’s cacao supply comes from West Africa, but the average consumer would not realize this simply by surveying the chocolate bars on the store shelves. The limited availability of West African sourced chocolate appears to reflect larger trends of exclusion in trade logistics, purchasing power, bean type, and politics (Leissle 23).

In the end, the tasting was organized around four chocolate bars with different origins and, hopefully, terroirs. The selection began with three dark chocolate bars made with single-origin beans from three different places, with similar cacao content and minimal added ingredients. The last chocolate was a milk chocolate bar made from blended cacao beans, for the purpose of comparing cocoa content, texture, and taste.

Participating tasters conducted a sensory evaluation, consumed the chocolate, and ranked the overall appeal on a numerical scale.

The chocolate tasting consisted of seven participants sampling the different chocolates sans packaging. Initially, tasters shared their chocolate preferences and consumption habits. The majority enjoyed chocolate on a daily or weekly basis in the form of dark chocolate. Three people were familiar with the concept of terroir, often mentioning wine at the same time, while four had not previously known about it. The actual tasting consisted of a sensory evaluation, with each taster writing down notes about the chocolate’s appearance, smell, “snapping” sound, taste, and texture (Stuckey 135). After finishing the sample, each taster rated how much they liked a product on a scale of one—“strong dislike, would not eat again”—to five—“great appreciation, would purchase and eat again.”

The first sample—labeled “Chocolate A” —was Chocolat Bonnat’s Madagascar bar. While the packaging boasts that the beans are from a carefully selected cocoa grands crus in Madagascar, the chocolate itself is produced in France. The bar is 75% cacao and the listed ingredients in order are cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and sugar. This bar was selected as the first sample because its flavor profile promises “blond cocoa and sweet Indian Ocean, fruity, well balanced.” The aim was to begin with a chocolate bar that was not too overpowering in terms of flavor and texture.

This bar held true to its promise of balance. The tasters’ observations were not particularly specific, simply noticing that the taste was both sweet and bitter. The average ranking for the chocolate was 3.92 and was the crowd favorite for its evenness. Participants noted that there was nothing too strong about it, either in aroma or taste, and therefore, they would be more likely to consume the whole bar or buy it again.

Goodnow Farms Chocolate’s Esmeraldas was selected for the second sample, “Chocolate B.” This “premium dark chocolate” bar highlights that the cacao beans are “single origin” from the Salazar family farm in Ecuador’s Esmeraldas region. The chocolate is part of a “small batch” production process in Sudbury, Massachusetts, with this particular bar from batch number 1,046. The bar is 70% cacao and the listed ingredients in order are cacao beans, organic sugar, and cocoa butter. The packaging describes the flavors within as “intense,” “berry jam,” and a “long, pleasantly tannic finish.” This bar was selected to be tasted second in the sequence because of its promise of bold, fruity flavors.

Even though the bar does not contain fruit additives, the “berry jam” description seemed very apt when tasters commented on the chocolate’s color and taste. The color of the chocolate was described as so dark that it had a purple or even black hue. The flavor was described as “fruity” with elements of coffee or a stout beer. These specific descriptors immediately set the reactions apart from the first bar even though the listed ingredients are the same and the cacao content is even slightly less. While my hypothesis was that the difference was due to terroir—the combination of genetics, location, and human intervention—the tasters were more convinced that it was the manufacturing process alone, such as how long the cacao beans were roasted, that accounted for the taste differences. The average ranking was 3.85, but with more varying opinions than the previous sample.

The third sample, “Chocolate C,” was Taza Chocolate’s 80% Dark Dominican Republic. This bar is part of Taza Chocolate’s “Origin Bar” series where the packaging advertises that the chocolate is “made from bean to bar” in Somerville, Massachusetts. The ingredients are all labeled as organic—cacao beans, cane sugar, and cocoa butter—except for the vanilla beans. This bar was selected for its texture; the stone ground technique would provide a comparison for mouthfeel for the tasters when compared to the other chocolate bars. While the chocolate wrapping does not describe the flavor profile beyond its boldness, the online description describes the tasting experience as starting “with a burst of ripe strawberry fruit, then mellows into coffee and smoky notes” (Taza Chocolate). This chocolate bar was third in the sequence and last for the dark chocolate selections because it contained both the highest cacao content and the most powerful flavors.

This sample elicited the strongest reactions from the group and received the lowest average rating of 1.93. Those who had never tasted stone ground chocolate were surprised and unreceptive to the gritty, “sandy” texture. For those who were familiar with Taza Chocolate and did not mind the texture, commented on the strong flavor, describing it as “blueberry,” “cherry,” and “chipotle, without the spice.” The robust flavors and descriptions may be attributed to the use of vanilla beans in the chocolate, which is typically used to intensify and highlight other present flavors in chocolate (Presilla 138).

Chocolove’s Milk Chocolate bar, containing 33% cocoa, was the last sample: “Chocolate D.” This sample was last, for it had the most additives—cocoa butter, milk, cocoa liquor, soy lecithin, and vanilla—and was predicted to be the sweetest tasting. Instead of a single cacao bean origin, this bar is made from “a blend of Javanese and African cocoa beans” with “caramel-like flavors.” Rather than drawing on the lexicon associated with origins and traditional chocolate-making techniques, Chocolove references luxury and a historical tradition by mentioning that this bar is “Belgian milk chocolate” in several places on the front and back of the packaging. Like the other chocolate bars, this bar is not made in the place of origin, but in Boulder, Colorado.

Every single taster described this sample as “sweet” and some further elaborated with descriptions of “caramel,” “vanilla,” and “creamy.” A few tasters referenced a sentiment of artifice or a lack of perceived chocolate authenticity, mentioning the flavor tasted “cheap,” “fake,” “processed,” or like it was made with “condensed milk.” These reactions are appropriate when scanning this chocolate bar’s ingredients: sugar is listed first. Despite the consensus that the chocolate bar was overly sweet, the chocolate was still perceived as relatively favorable with an average rating of 3.36. While all the tasters are self-professed dark chocolate lovers, they shared that the saccharine taste of the Chocolove would appeal to them for the times when they do want a milk chocolate bar. The addition of sugar appeared to overpower any display of terroir and the discussion gravitated towards texture. As a group, we discussed whether we are socially conditioned to perceive “smooth” chocolate as “good” chocolate. So, even though the milk chocolate flavor was not necessarily better than the that of the Taza Stone Ground chocolate, this sample was more well-received because of its silky texture.

The packaging of the chocolate samples were revealed at the end to facilitate a discussion about tasting terroir.

Overall, the chocolate tasting was an insightful experience into terroir and bean origins of chocolate. All the tasters agreed that they could taste distinct differences between all the chocolate samples. While the group thought that some of the differences could be attributed to the place origin and plant genetics, they ultimately believed that human intervention was the largest influence on the final chocolate taste.

With so many factors to consider when choosing the samples of chocolate, it would be interesting to host another tasting with the same group of people but with different selection criteria. For instance, many chocolatiers argue against the use of percentages in chocolate advertising, saying that high cacao content does not necessarily reflect good flavor (Williams and Eber 170). A future tasting could test chocolates of different cacao content, but all from the same origin.

Terroir is a quality in a food product that synthesizes genetics, location, and human interactions to evoke a “sense of place.” The participants in the chocolate tasting believed that human intervention was the most dominant factor in affecting how terroir is perceived in the final product.

Future of Terroir in Chocolate
To investigate terroir in chocolate is to inquire into a chocolate bar’s origins. Regardless of a single origin or multiple origins, labeling a chocolate bar’s beginnings invites curiosity about its origins and what makes its taste distinct. Doing so paves the way for more socially responsible chocolate. For instance, an excellent chocolate bar labeled with its origins from a less-publicized chocolate-producing regions, such as those in West Africa, could be a positive representation (Leissle 30). As consumers become more interested in where their chocolate comes from, chocolate makers gain incentive to move closer to the cultivation process (Nesto 135). Combined with further research into different bean strains and place distinctions, there is much to look forward to the future of terroir in chocolate.

Works Cited
Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 13 (3): 22-31.

Martin, Carla D. “Health, nutrition, and the politics of food & Psychology, terroir, and taste.” 11 April 2018. AAAS 119x, Harvard University.

Nesto, Bill. “Discovering terroir in the world of chocolate.” Gastronomica 10, no. 1 (2010): 131-135.

Presilla, Maricel. 2009. The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes.

Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 132-156.

“80% Dark Dominican Republic.” Taza Chocolate. https://www.tazachocolate.com/products/dominican-80

Wiley, Carol. 2017. 198 U.S. Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers: A State-by-State Guide.

Williams, Pam and Jim Eber. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.

Image Sources
Image 1: “Discover Real Chocolate.” By Everjean is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Image 2: “Autour du vin: printemps (basin d’orange).” By Jean-Louis Zimmermann is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Image 3: Rice, Sarah. “At Dandelion Chocolate in S.F., cocoa beans are sorted by hand.” In “Bean-to-bar chocolates: Bay Area’s edgy sweets,” by Tara Duggan. 7 November 2014. https://www.sfgate.com/food/article/Bean-to-bar-chocolates-Bay-Area-s-edgy-sweets-5879261.php

Images 4-5 by author

Image 6: Morejón, César. “A farmer extracts the seed of cacao…” The Wall Street Journal. In “A Tasting Tour of Ecuador, Chocolate’s Birthplace,” by Adam H. Gram. 13 September 2013. https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-tasting-tour-of-ecuador-chocolates-birthplace-1379108319

Chocolate Tasting: Creating Conscientious Consumers Through Increased Awareness

After spending a semester studying the history, culture and politics of chocolate at Harvard University with Professor Carla D. Martin, I decided to host a chocolate tasting to put to test what had been presented in class and in our readings. My invitation to the tasting was enthusiastically accepted by several friends who love, of course, all things chocolate. My goal was threefold: to educate them about the anatomy of a chocolate bar, to explore some of the issues facing the chocolate industry today, and to examine the packaging and significance of certifications.  By increasing their awareness of these topics, I hoped to inspire them to become more conscientious consumers.

THE TASTING

The challenge quickly became which chocolate bars to include in my taste test.  Walking down the aisles of a few local grocery and convenience stores proved daunting.  There were just so many bars to choose from.  In The New Taste of Chocolate, Maricel E. Presilla writes, “the face of chocolate has changed fantastically in the last few years in that shoppers now find themselves confronted with some bewildering choices” (p 126).  And bewildered I was. When surveying the multitude of labels, I considered ingredients, certifications, and messaging. Ultimately, I arrived at a sample of seventeen bars including three different milk chocolates, a few dark chocolates with varying amounts of cocoa, and a selection of bars with additional ingredients such as almonds, mint, caramels, and sugar substitutes.  I also included one raw cacao bar to see how it would fare.  In addition, I selected several bars that had specific certifications and messaging on their packaging to prompt discussion about the issues in the chocolate industry today.

I elected to host a blind taste test so that my friends could judge each chocolate free from pre-conceived notions, preferences, and packaging information.  I assigned each bar a letter and created a spreadsheet which the participants used to record their results.  I instructed them to use all of their senses to fully experience each chocolate bar.  First, they looked at each sample for color and sheen.  They then smelled the chocolate to enjoy the aroma.  After breaking each sample to experience the “snap”, they tasted them.  My group proved to be very enthusiastic and shared their findings with great description using terms such as “sweet,” “too sweet,” “artificial,” “chalky,” “salty,” “milky,” “creamy,” “delicious,” “nutty,” “fruity,” “bleh” and “awful.”

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The general consensus among this group was that they preferred dark chocolate to milk, and favored a bar with a cocoa content of around 70%, finding a bar with 85% cocoa too bitter. As a group of mostly affluent, educated and health conscious women, they liked bars with natural and organic ingredients rather than artificial flavors and soy lecithin.  In her article “Fresh off The Farm”, Patricia Unterman explains, “when you choose to eat organic and sustainably raised produce, a little karma rubs off on you and makes everything taste better,” which resonated with this group. I found it interesting that they all readily identified the Hershey’s milk chocolate bar and agreed it reminded them of their childhoods. Though they admitted they don’t regularly consume Hershey’s, they still enjoy it as a key ingredient in s’mores.  Most of them enjoyed chocolate bars with nuts, few liked fruit additives, and only one liked the raw bar.  Some were pleasantly surprised by the bars with the artificial sweetener Stevia. They considered them to be “less guilty” treats having no sugar and fewer calories.

BEYOND THE BAR

I concluded the tasting with an analysis of the packaging of the different bars. We looked at the manufacturer, their messaging, list of ingredients, bean origination and certifications. While some of the participants were familiar with the various certifications, most were not and only one was familiar with the issues present in the chocolate industry today. The group expressed a desire to gain a broader understanding of these issues so that they could be more discriminating in their choices and use their purchasing power to support the causes they felt most strongly about.  In Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure, Warde and Martens note “consumption practices are driven by a conscious reflexivity such that people monitor, reflect upon and adapt their personal conduct in light of its perceived consequences.”

The industry today is fraught with many interrelated challenges including the worst forms of child labor, poverty, and sustainability to name a few, and certifications allow consumers to learn which chocolate companies support ethical and sustainable practices.  Worst forms of child labor include slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and any work by its nature that is harmful to the health, safety and morals of children (Martin, April 21). In The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich , Ndogo Sylla explains child labor is extensively utilized in cacao harvesting and estimates that 2 million children work in the West African countries of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.  Cacao farmers labor under difficult circumstances and are subject to physical injury and exposure to toxic pesticides while earning on average $.50 to $.80 per day per capita making it virtually impossible to support a paid labor force or sustainable farming practices (Warde and Martens, p 497).

CERTIFICATIONS

The idea of fair trade dates back to the late 1940’s and has evolved over the past 70 years with the goal to reduce poverty through everyday shopping.  A multitude of organizations strive to tackle poverty in the poorest countries by improving workers’ social, economic and environmental conditions.  Others raise awareness and work to protect endangered species and the planet.  The images and links below represent some of the different certifications we discussed:

 

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Fairtrade International(FI) is a multi-stakeholder, non-profit organization focusing on the empowerment of producers and workers in developing countries through trade. Fairtrade International provides leadership, tools and services needed to connect producers and consumers, promote fairer trading conditions and work towards sustainable livelihoods. https://www.flocert.net/glossary/fairtrade-international-fairtrade-labelling-organizations-international-e-v/

Fair Trade Certified enables sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, fishermen, consumers, industry, and the earth. We achieve our mission by certifying and promoting Fair Trade products. https://www.fairtradecertified.org

Equal Exchange Equal Exchange’s mission is to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world. http://equalexchange.coop/about

UTZ Certified shows UTZ stands for sustainable farming and better opportunities for farmers, their families and our planet. The UTZ program enables farmers to learn better farming methods, improve working conditions and take better care of their children and the environment.Through the UTZ program farmers grow better crops, generate more income and create better opportunities while safeguarding the environment and securing the earth’s natural resources.  Now and in the future, consumers that products have been sourced, from farm to shop shelf, in a sustainable manner. To become certified, all UTZ suppliers have to follow our Code of Conduct, which offers expert guidance on better farming methods, working conditions and care for nature. https://utz.org

Rainforest Alliance Our green frog certification seal indicates that a farm, forest, or tourism enterprise has been audited to meet standards that require environmental, social, and economic sustainability. It is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land- use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/faqs/what-does-rainforest-alliance-certified-mean

AND THE WINNER IS

After much deliberation, considering aroma, color, sheen, snap, flavor and texture, the group unanimously agreed the Hachez Cocoa D’Arriba 77% Classic was their favorite. One taster exclaimed, “It’s so creamy and the flavor is so rich.”

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THE HACHEZ STORY

Joseph Emile Hachez, a chocolatier of Belgian origin, established The Bremer HACHEZ Chocolade GmbH & Co. KG in 1890 in Bremen, Germany. Though the company has changed hands several times over the past century, Hachez remains one of the most well-regarded producers of superior chocolates in Germany. As highlighted on their packaging, “Hachez offers authentic chocolates of superior quality and craftsmanship-from the cocoa bean to the chocolate bar.”

“Still using the original recipes, they are one of the few German chocolate manufacturers to do everything in one location – from cleaning the cocoa beans to roasting them, molding the chocolate and packaging them. This allows them to oversee each stage of manufacturing to ensure every last piece of chocolate meets their high standards” (Chocoversum.de).

 

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About 100 hours of work are put into every cocoa bean which leaves the factory in Bremen as chocolate. The CHOCOVERSUM shows the tradition and the attention to detail, which is practiced in the HACHEZ chocolate factory in Bremen by over 350 employees on a daily basis. (Chocoversum.de)

 

Though their packaging displays no certifications or social, political or environmental messaging, Hachez belongs to both BDSI, the Association of German Confectionary, and GISCO, the German Institute on Sustainable Cocoa, which aim to address some of the issues facing the cacao industry today. The BDSI works to improve the standard of living for cocoa farmers and their families by promoting sustainable farming and education, and by offering loans to farmers to fund investments to increase productivity, quality and efficiency.  They find exploitive child labor practices unacceptable and are working with local communities to eliminate it through education and schooling. BDSI intends to boost the percent of sustainable cocoa in manufacturing to 50% by 2020 and to 70% by 2025 and to increase the share of responsibly produced cocoa in chocolate and confections sold in Germany.  Similarly, GISCO’s focus is to improve the living conditions of cocoa farmers and their families and to conserve natural resources and biodiversity in cocoa producing countries.

THE ANATOMY OF A HACHEZ BAR

To understand the anatomy of any chocolate bar, it is essential to consider all of the ingredients and workers that contribute to the final product. The basis for chocolate is cacao, which is derived from the seed of the tree, Theobroma cacao, or “food-of-the-gods cacao.” These trees grow in a band around the world, hugging the equator, and thriving only where there are perfect temperatures and plentiful moisture (Off, p 10). Approximately 70% of the worlds cocoa comes from West African, in particular, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana.  Latin America accounts for 16% of cocoa production and Asia and Oceana account for another 12%.  Over 10% of the global harvest is processed in Germany where Hachez is based.

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Farmers gently separate the cacao pods from the trees and crack them open to remove the pulp which encases the precious beans.  Once cleaned of debris, the beans and surrounding pulp are covered in banana leaves to begin the important process of fermentation which develops the flavor of the beans. The fermentation process can take between two and six days.  When fermentation is complete, the beans are dried, sorted and bagged for shipment.

At Hachez, they claim to use only the finest cocoa varieties from farmers whom they consider to be socially responsible, environmentally friendly and practice sustainable farming. The unique flavor characteristics of the variety of beans they use reflect their terroir, “loosely translated as ‘a sense of place,’ which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment and people have had on the production of the product” (Martin, April 18).

Upon receiving the beans, Hachez’s chocolatiers sort them and run them through a machine to remove stones, sticks, and other foreign substances.  Next, the beans are “roasted in traditional drums using hot air currents to extract the optimal development of flavor and aroma” (Chocoverse.de). After a winnower separates the husks from the nibs, Hachez grinds the nibs specifically to a granular diameter of .0014 mm to produce a more delicate texture. Next, the chocolate is put through a conche for up to 72 hours to reduce the size of the particles in order to fully refine the aroma and to enhance the smoothness and delicate consistency. The chocolate is then tempered: “the temperature of the mass is raised, then carefully lowered so that the crystal structure of the fat may be destroyed to prevent the bar from becoming blotchy and granular, with a poor color.  Tempering remains a vital step in the manufacture of the finest quality chocolate” (Coe and Coe, p 248). The end result is a chocolate bar with great aroma, sheen, snap, flavor and texture.  As one taster exclaimed, “This bar is amazing.  The rich flavor and creamy texture make it the best one by far.”

CONCLUSION

Near the end of the tasting, we explored the health benefits of chocolate when consumed responsibly.  Chocolate with the greatest health benefits has a minimum 70% cacao, is organic, has limited amounts of cocoa butter and added fats, and is enjoyed in small amounts of about 2 oz. per day (Martin, April 11). Scientists have identified in cacao antioxidant properties which reduce disease causing free radicals. Antioxidants like this help ward off cancer, repair damaged cells, and impact the effects of aging.  Dark chocolate in particular is high in polyphenols and flavonoids providing a large dose of antioxidants per serving.  Flavanols, the main type of flavonoid found in dark chocolate, also are known to positively affect heart health because they help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow.

The tasters left feeling much smarter about the bean to bar process, more aware of the issues facing the chocolate industry today, enlightened about the health benefits of dark chocolate, and most important, empowered as shoppers.  I would argue I succeeded in turning them into conscientious consumers.

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sphie D. and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2006 (3rd Edition).

Mintz, Sydney W., Sweetness and Power. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1985.

Off, Carol, Bitter Chocolate, Anatomy of an Industry. New York: The New Press, 2014.

Martin, Carla D.  “Modern Day Slavery”, Harvard University, AAS E119, March 21, 2018.

Martin, Carla D. “Health, Nutrition, and Politics of Food”, Harvard University, AAS E119, April 11, 2018.

Martin, Carla D. “Psychology, Terroir and Taste”, Harvard University, AAS E119,  April 18, 2018.

Presilla, Maricel E., The New Taste of Chocolate Revised. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2001.

Unterman, Patricia, “Fresh off the Farm”, SF Examiner, Aug 20, 2000.

Warde, A. and I. Martens, Eating Out: Social Differentiation, Consumption and Pleasure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Sylla, Ndongo Samba. The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty To Benefit The Rich. 1st ed. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 2014.

Chocoversum by Hachez. https://www.chocoversum.de/en/

Association of the German Confectionary Industry. https://www.bdsi.de

German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa. https://www.kakaoforum.de/en/

 

 

 

 

 

Tackling Terroir in Chocolate

For this blogpost, I was curious to explore the idea of terroir as it pertains to chocolate. “Terroir” is, literally, the French word for soil or land and can be defined as “the conditions in which a food is grown or produced and that give the food its unique characteristics.” [i]  According to Kristy Leissle, “cocoa beans, like wine grapes, produce distinct flavors depending on strain and terroir, and showcasing that flavor is the goal of single origin chocolate.” [ii]

Of course, as discussed throughout our chocolate class (Karla Martin, personal communication) the final taste of chocolate is determined by many factors. The taste can be influenced by the type of cacao and where it is grown but can also be influenced by the type of cacao tree, how the cacao beans are fermented and dried and how it is processed. How is it roasted? Is it conched and for how long? Are other ingredients added?  A description of the kinds of factors that influence chocolate flavor can be found here: [iii]  But despite those questions, I was curious to explore what differences we would taste in chocolate bars whose beans were sourced from different countries.

So I took myself off to Whole Foods in Dedham – one of the largest Whole Foods I have ever visited. There I faced an enormous and bewildering display of chocolate: 3 full banks of shelves – ½ of an entire aisle – entirely devoted to chocolate, none of it mass market. I employed the following criteria to restrict my choices:

  • Must be at least 70% chocolate
  • No added ingredients other than sweetener, vanilla, emulsifier
  • Package must state the cacao is sourced from a certain geographic area.

I ended up with 7 bars of chocolate to taste, from 6 different areas: Ghana, Dominican Republic Madegascar, Tanzania, Haiti, and Ecuador. Only one was made in the country of origin. The others were produced in Germany, Massachusetts, Belgium, and Switzerland.

What I found at Whole Foods bears out Leissle’s statement that even though the majority of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, most single single origin chocolate bars are sourced from other regions. She suggests that this is likely because the quality of West African chocolate is often not high. The one bar I found from West Africa was from Ghana. Ghanaian chocolate, which is regulated by a national Cocoa Board is considered the best of the West African chocolate. (Leissle). Tight regulation may be the reason that it is higher quality, but it can also make it difficult for manufacturers to source enough chocolate from Ghana to create single-origin bars. Another issue with West African chocolate is that it is often tainted in the public mind by allegations of child and slave labor, which could affect sales.

Interestingly, all of these chocolates bore a special certification of one kind or another, indicating that the buyer was not just buying chocolate to eat, but also contributing to social good with the purchase. Certifications included Fair trade, Fair for life, direct trade, whole trade.  As Ndongo S. Sylla suggests in his critique of Fair Trade, it is as if “poverty itself has become a commodity. Through this label, it is the idea and the approach that are being sold…The irony is that the new advocates of the poor unknowingly work for the rich, being themselves part of this category.” [iv] The packaging suggests that with your purchase you have become a “compassionate consumer” as Martin and Sampeck [v] label it, and so you can feel good about yourself because you are meeting the needs of others when you spend your money, often justifying a higher price. Of course, one doesn’t know how much of that premium actually reaches the farmer. It’s almost a side benefit to one’s good work in buying the chocolate, that it may also be delicious.

All but two of the bars were organic, and this also seems to play into the idea of doing good with your dollars. The packaging materials themselves are organic-looking/earthy-crunchy with non-shiny paper and arty graphics. Julie Guthman, in her history of the development of organic salad mix (“yuppie chow”), says “eating organic salad mix connoted a political action in its own right, legitimizing a practice that few could afford.”[vi] This notion of eating as a political action could also be applied to organic chocolate. However, as Williams and Eber point out in Raising the Bar [vii], organic chocolate isn’t necessarily the best chocolate. Furthermore, organic certification is an expensive proposition for a small cocoa farmer because the land must come out of production for 3 years and getting a certificate costs money. The premium that organic chocolate can demand tends not to come to the farmer. Furthermore, much cocoa actually is in essence organic, though not certified as such, because many farmers cannot afford pesticides. So how much good are you really doing by buying organic chocolate?

For this project, I convened an after-dinner tasting panel of 3 foodies: myself (a prolific cook-gardener), my friend Emily (an artist/social worker who generally prefers milk chocolate to dark chocolate), and my husband John (a field engineer by day and musician/poet in the off hours). We discussed a common convention of tasting, guided by Barb Stuckey’s article on How the Pros Taste. [viii] She suggests the importance of using other senses in tasting, such as sight, smell, taste, and texture or mouth feel. We placed each sample on a white plate to judge the the color, slowly sniffed it to sense the aroma, snapped it with our teeth to judge crispness, and then placed it on our tongue to savor slowly and see what flavors emerged. We sampled in order of lightest (70%) to darkest (85%). After sampling each, we took a look at the package to see what information we could glean. Our method of palate cleansing after each taste was perhaps unorthodox, but delicious: water, plain crackers, and red wine that had been aged in bourbon barrels.

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THE TASTING:

Divine 70% “Intensely Rich” chocolate. Ghana     IMG_7855

Color: very dark brown. Aroma: rich and lovely. Snap: Nice, crisp.

Savoring notes: we found it sweet but not overly so. Delicious. You could taste the vanilla. It melted slowly with a lingering flavor and was very smooth. John, our poet, said he could taste the savannah. The finish was very earthy. However, at the end it felt a bit chalky and dry, as if it sucked the moisture out of one’s mouth. We decided to call this kind of finish “sere.”  “Sere” is defined as dry or arid. [ix]

Judgment: We all liked this chocolate very much at first taste, though we weren’t fond of the sere finish.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 19g fat, 11 g sugar.   Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, vanilla.

Certifications: Non gmo project, halal, fairtrade.

Price: $3.00 for 3.5 oz. (It was on sale; normally $3.99).

Website here

Other Notes:  Divine is made with cocoa beans from a co-op of small-holder farmers in Ghana and is produced in Germany. The package is decorated with Adinkra symbols which are traditional West African motifs. The inside of the package congratulates the buyer for supporting cocoa farmers and displays the photograph of an individual cocoa farmer and tells her story.  It also displays the AYA symbol, representing Endurance and Peaceful Coexistence. It feels like you are invited into the community of cocoa farmers by purchasing this chocolate.

Taza Chocolates 70% stone ground chocolate. “perfectly unrefined” Dominican Republic

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Color: less dark and rich looking than the Divine. Aroma: less intense than Divine, but nice. Less crisp than Divine.

Savoring notes: Tasted sweeter than Divine and the initial taste was less intense at the start. Not buttery and smooth but textural, (unsurprising since it is stone ground and unconched.) Very pleasant to savor, though the texture was distracting. Overall a simpler taste than the Divine. The finish was also less dry (sere) at the end.

Judgment: We all thought this chocolate was o.k., but not a favorite, mostly because of the grittiness and lack of complexity.

Ingredient %: 70% cacao. 14 g. fat, 11 g. sugar.  Ingredients: organic cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications: USDA Organic, non GMO project, Gluten Free, Vegan, Direct Trade

Price: $4.75, 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: Packaging is simple non glossy paper, quite attractive. It makes a big point of being unrefined and minimally processed with bold flavor and texture. It is made in Somerville, MA

Madecasse, Madagascar.  70% heirloom Madagascar cocoa, “bright with a fruity finish.”

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Color: not as dark as the first two. Aroma: strong, rich and deep. You could almost taste the chocolate as you smelled it. A reasonable snap.

Savoring notes: A bit granular. Not as smooth as the divine. Lingering, complex flavor. Our poet musician called it “beautiful birds” and then described the taste as “symphonic” and “well-orchestrated.” The finish had a little vanilla, it was luscious all the way through, and there was no chalky dryness or “sere” quality at the end.

Judgment: Our favorite so far.

Ingredient %: Fat 16 g, Sugar 10 g.   Ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, natural vanilla.

Certifications: Fair Trade, Fair for life.

Price: $4.50 for 2.64 oz.

Website here

Other notes:  The packaging is lovely. Simple yet colorful with a drawing of an opened cocoa pod (revealing the white flesh and the cocoa beans), nestled with leaves, cocoa beans and pieces of chocolate bar. On the back, a map of Africa/Madagascar and the story of the chocolate. Madecasse was started by peace corps volunteers in Madagascar who decided to make chocolate “as a vehicle for social impact.” This bar is not only sourced from Madegascar, it is made there. More than some of the other packaging, this bar seemed to stress the deliciousness of the chocolate, as much as their mission.

Whole Foods 72% “Tanzania Schoolhouse Project Cacao.”

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Color: quite dark, as dark as the divine chocolate. Aroma: rich. Bite: soft.

Savoring notes:  Smooth and delicious. No “sere” finish at the end. We couldn’t say exactly what we were tasting…just that it was delicious.

Judgment: The favorite of Emily, the person who typically doesn’t like dark chocolate. John and I still preferred Madecasse, though we did enjoy this bar.

Ingredient %: 17 g fat and 10 g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic chocolate liquor, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter. No lecithin and no vanilla.

Certifications: vegetarian, USDA organic, Kosher, Whole trade

Price: $6.00 for 3.5 oz.

No website.

Other notes:  Somehow we didn’t expect this to taste good – perhaps because it seemed to be more about supporting Tanzanian schoolhouses and doing “good works” and less about the chocolate. And perhaps because it was made by the big business of Whole Foods. The packaging wasn’t as appealingly earthy/arty as the others. It was glossier, with photographs of Tanzanian people and cocoa trees rather than compelling graphics. This bar is made in Belgium. We were also surprised to find that we didn’t miss the vanilla in this bar. Interestingly, the Tanzania schoolhouse Project website link which describes their charitable projects makes no mention of this chocolate. The packaging also doesn’t indicate what amount of proceeds are donated to the project. My cynical side thinks Whole Foods may be using the Tanzanian project as a marketing tool, since there is so little transparency about what they are really doing in Tanzania.

Apotheker’s “classic dark”, bee-sweetened 76% chocolate, Dominican Republic.

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Color: This chocolate was the darkest so far. Aroma: wonderful – very rich. Bite: very soft.

Savoring notes: The honey taste was predominant at first and the chocolate tasted very different from the other ones. Although the texture was not smooth, it was enjoyable, more so than the grittiness of the Taza. The taste felt slow to open up, perhaps because it was less sweet, but when it did open was nice. The honey taste lingered throughout and the finish had no “sere” at all. This was definitely a different kind of chocolate and we found it enjoyable.

Ingredient %: 18 g fat, 6g of sugar.  Ingredients: Organic Cacao liquor, organic cacao butter, organic raw honey, sunflower lecithin, organic vanilla beans.

Certifications and claims: direct trade, family owned, gluten, dairy and soy free, single origin, biodynamic, hand-crafted.

Price: $6.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: The package graphics and the name hint at being like something from an apothecary or a general store, like it might be good for you. It has an old-fashioned, early 20 century look that might draw you in on the basis of sentimentality. It also proclaims in large letters that it is organic raw honey sweetened – so it can draw in people who are drawn to health foods. This bar is made in Dorchester, MA by a husband/wife team who also make soaps, hot cocoa, and bee-sweetened mallows. This was our second bar made with Dominican cocoa and quite different from the first.

Taza “perfectly unrefined” 84% Dark chocolate, sourced from Haiti.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: very earthy and perhaps a little sharp. Bite: hard but not crisp

Savoring notes: Like the other Taza bar, this was granular, but the texture was almost sandy. It had a very earthy taste, very simple, almost primitive. Emily commented that it was more like a food than a dessert. It finished with a fruity taste.

Judgment: We loved the flavor that opened when we savored a piece of this bar, but we were put off by the grittiness.

Ingredient %: 13 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans and cane sugar

Certifications and claims: organic direct trade, non gmo, gluten free, dairy soy and vegan free

Price: $7.50 for 2.5 oz.

Website here

Other notes: the packaging of this bar is similar to that of the Taza Dominican bar. It is also made in Somerville. The package makes note that Taza is the first U.S. chocolate maker to source certified USDA organic cacao from Haiti.

Alter Eco, “dark blackout” 85% dark chocolate, from Peru.

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Color: quite dark. Aroma: strong and vegetal, reminiscent of tobacco. Snap: crisp.

Savoring notes: The flavor was very slow to open – perhaps because it had less sugar. The taste was a little acidic. The texture was smooth, waxy at the start. It had a chalky, “sere” finish.

Judgment: Meh. We didn’t care for this chocolate very much.

Ingredient %: 22 g fat, 6 g sugar.  Ingredients: cacao beans, cocoa butter, raw sugar, vanilla beans

Certifications: USDA Organic, Fair trade, gluten free, non gmo.

Price: $3.99 for 2.82 oz.

Website here

Other notes: packaging is the least glossy of all – very recycled looking. There is a lot of comment on the inside of the packaging about their mission: sustainability, replacing coca crops with cacao crops and the importance of cocoa cooperatives and a Carbon Zero reforestation project, along with photographs of people who are presumably cacao farmers. Clearly the intent is to let you know that by buying this chocolate you are doing good. Too bad we didn’t like the taste of it.

Last thoughts on this experience

We were all surprised by how interesting – and enjoyable – it was to use so many senses in experiencing each chocolate bar. Taking the time to savor revealed so many nuances. Emily, who prefers milk chocolate, actually enjoyed most of the bars when she took the time to smell and consider each sample and slowly let it melt in her mouth. We found ourselves with questions about the reasons for the differences in taste: what was due to how the chocolate was processed, how much was terroir, how much was the power of suggestion in packaging, how much was due to the percentage – or type – of ingredients.

There are many avenues for further investigation. For instance, we could compare a number of different chocolates sourced from one region (if we could find them). We could compare chocolates produced with different methods – for instance a variety of unconched chocolates. We could investigate the claims different companies make about bettering the lives of farmers or the environment or contributing to other good causes. How much do they actually do and contribute and how much of the lingo is an attempt to reel in the compassionate consumer by convincing them they are doing good with their consumer dollars? I look forward to  exploring these ideas in future tastings with friends.

Sources Consulted:

[i] Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/terroir.

[ii] Leissle, Kristy, “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture. 2013. 13:3, pp, 22-31.

[iii] Chocolate Review, Chocolatereview.com.au, accessed May 9, 2017.

[iv] Sylla, Ndongo S., The Fair Trade Scandal: Marketing Poverty to Benefit the Rich. 2014. Athens, Ohio University Press.

[v] Martin, Carla D. and Kathryn E. Sampek, The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe. Doi: 10.18030/SOCIO.HU.2015EN.37.

[vi] Guthman, Julie, “Fast Food/Organic Food: Reflexive Tastes and the Making of “Yuppie Chow” in Counihan, Carole and Penny van Esterik, ed., Food and Culture. 2013. New York: Routledge.

[vii] Williams, Pan and Jim Eber, Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. 2012. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Publishing Corporation.

[viii] Stuckey, Barb, “How the Pros Taste,” in Taste What You’re Missing: The Passionate Eater’s Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good. 2012. New York: Free Press.

[ix] Mirriam Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sere, Accessed May 9, 2017.

An Experiment to Test Chocolate Preference

To test chocolate preferences, I conducted an experiment on my friends by having them taste a wide variety of chocolates. They didn’t know that they were part of an experiment. They were only told that I was holding a chocolate tasting as part of a course I was taking and I wanted them to rank their preference of each of 7 chocolates, or cacao nibs, from 1 to 7 (1 being the best). Three of my friends were not raised in America which provided some interesting information on the differences in chocolate preference between Americans and people from other parts of the world. Through my experiment I discovered how texture, Fair Trade or organic labels, gourmet or artisan labels, and the distinct taste of Hershey’s chocolate affected preferences.

In an attempt to set up a controlled experience with as little changing variables as possible, I decided to make all the samples I gave my friends look exactly the same. I melted down the 6 types of chocolate bars I bought and molded them using the brown mold pictured below. I did not want my friend’s preferences to be affected by product names or the shape/appearance of the chocolate.

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I presented the chocolates in the same way to everyone, as pictured below. The only noticeable difference between the chocolates was that the chocolate on the left side of the plate was obviously milk chocolate. I kept my samples in plastic bags with the original packaging, as seen in the picture, to ensure that I did not mix up the samples that now looked exactly the same. My friends did not see me set up the plates so they had no way of knowing if I was telling the truth about the chocolates they were eating during the tasting.

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I randomly assigned my 8 friends to two separate groups, Group A and Group B. Sometimes I switched two chocolates on the tasting plate for a particular group. This meant that as I was leading the tasting, I was telling one group that they were eating one type of chocolate when they were really eating another. I did this so I could see if what I said to them about the chocolates had any affect on how much they liked them. I gave each friend a tasting form and a tastes “cheat sheet,” pictured below.

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My cheat sheet was inspired by chocolate tastings done in class and Stuckey’s explanation of the five tastes: “… the only five tastes we Homo sapiens can detect using our tongue alone [are] sweet, sour, bitter, salt, and umami… These tongue sensations are known as the five Basic Tastes” (5). I gave my friends minimal information about the chocolate on the tasting sheets. I left a spot for them to rank the chocolates and another spot for them to write their general thoughts on the chocolate’s taste. As I led the tasting, I explained what any possibly unfamiliar words meant, like Fair Trade, organic, non-GMO, single origin, gourmet. Per recommendations from class, I had my friends taste things in order of highest cacao content to lowest. I decided to include cacao nibs in my tasting as an interesting difference from all the chocolate. I figured that most of my friends had never had cacao nibs so I was eager to see their reactions. The Cacao nibs are pictured below.

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From my friends’ reactions during the debriefing at the end of the experiment, they had no idea that I had lied about which chocolates I gave them. This leads me to believe that my data should be significant. Before I present my data, I will discuss each of the chocolates I used in my tasting, excluding the cacao nibs which I have already mentioned. I used two 80% chocolates which I switched for the groups. One of the chocolates was Taza’s 80% cacao and the other was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Panama with 80% cacao. The second line on my chocolate tasting sheet describes Equal Exchange’s chocolate while the third line describes Taza’s. I did not switch the fourth chocolate on my tasting sheet for the groups. This chocolate was Equal Exchange’s single origin chocolate from Peru with 71% cacao. Next I had Valrhona’s gourmet, single origin chocolate from Madagascar with 64% cacao (line 5) and Hershey’s dark chocolate (line 6). From my research, Hershey’s dark chocolate has approximately the same cacao percentage as the Valrhona chocolate I chose. Lastly, I gave the groups different milk chocolates with approximately the same percentage cacao. One group received Hershey’s milk chocolate while the other received a milk chocolate meant for chocolate fountains (pictured in the first image). Below are the rankings that my friends gave to each of these chocolates.

Cacao nibs: [2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7]

Taza: [1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7]

Equal Exchange 80%: [1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6]

Equal Exchange 71%: [2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4]

Hershey’s Dark: [1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 5, 5, 6]

Valrhona: [1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, 6]

Hershey’s milk: [6, 6, 6, 7]

Milk fountain chocolate: [2, 4, 5, 7]

From my data, the fair trade, organic and single origin labels did not seem to have any significant impact on chocolate preference. There were varying preferences for the four chocolates that had these labels (Taza, Equal Exchange, and Valrhona). This is interesting given what I read about “Perceptions of the Fairtrade label”:  “thanks in part to the numerous sensitisation campaigns, the Fairtrade label has become increasingly well known. Likewise, the purchase of FT products continues to grow at enviable rates… 50 per cent of people are familiar with the Fairtrade label. Beyond this, various opinion polls also showed that consumers are increasingly aware of the potential consequences of their consumption rates” (Sylla, “The marketing success of FT: some figures). Sylla suggests that increased education about Fair Trade has caused an “enviable” increase in the sale of fair trade products. One can deduce that an increased sale means an increased preference. The ranging ratings of my friends for Fair Trade chocolates (Equal Exchange and Taza), suggest that there is not really a correlation between a chocolate having a Fair Trade label and a higher preference for that chocolate.

Another interesting result in my data was the general feelings about Taza chocolate. Taza chocolate is different from most chocolate because it is stone ground, with the end result of a higher particle size in the chocolate. Part of the reason that chocolate became more popular was the introduction of machines that could grind chocolate into smaller particles, which might explain why my friends did not generally like it. Only 2 of my 8 friends liked Taza, while 4 out of my 8 friends liked it the least of all the samples (including the cacao nibs). There was actually more general dislike for Taza chocolate than the “bitter” cacao nibs. 7 out of my 8 friends described it as “grainy,” “gritty,” or “powdery.” In my mind, these are not positive adjectives for chocolate. I believe it is safe to say that people tend not to like higher particle size chocolates.

One fascinating result from my experiment was the reactions to Hershey’s chocolate. D’Antonia describes how Hershey’s chocolate differs from other chocolates and played a large role in shaping the chocolate preferences of Americans: “Hershey’s milk chocolate… carries a single, faintly sour note. This slight difference is caused by the fermentation of milk fat, an unexpected side effect… Anyone who knew Swiss milk chocolate… may have found Hershey’s candy unpleasant… Hershey’s milk chocolate… would also come to define the taste of chocolate for Americans” (108). The most striking result from my experiment was that 4 out of the 5 Americans chose Hershey’s dark chocolate as their favorite chocolate from the samples. This makes sense given what D’Antonio says, but it is particularly interesting given that milk is an ingredient in Hershey’s dark chocolate, unlike the other dark chocolate samples I tested. The non-Americans gave Hershey’s dark a lower rating (3, 5, and 5).

I included one expensive, gourmet chocolate in my tasting to see if there would be a general preference towards the chocolate. Williams and Beer explain that many consumers cannot recognize the improvements with gourmet or artisan chocolate, asking the question: “So, can consumers learn to slow down, taste, explore, and value the costly complexity of fine flavor?” (146). From my experiment, the answer to this question appears to be no. The very varied rankings of the gourmet chocolate indicate that my friends did not have any particular preference toward it.

Through my experiment I discovered that Americans and non-Americans definitely have different preferences for chocolate. Americans tend to prefer Hershey’s chocolate over other chocolates. Labels like Fair Trade and organic do not seem to have a significant impact on preferences but this might be due to lack of education. The particle size of chocolate also appears to play a big role in preference. Lastly, it is safe to say that people have not yet learned to appreciate the taste of more expensive artisan and gourmet chocolates.

 

Sources:

D’Antonio, Michael D. 2006. Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams. pp. 106-126.

Stuckey, Barb. 2012. Taste: What You’re Missing. pp. 1-30, 132-156.

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

Williams, Pam and Jim Beer. 2012. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. pp. 141-209.

 

Multimedia sources:

All images were taken by me.