Tag Archives: chocolove

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

Chocolove: Premium or not?

chocolove 2

My chocolate obsession is a life-long craving I have had since I was very little and one that was definitely encouraged by my chocolate-loving father. I remember as a small child going to seven-eleven with my dad on a regular basis to indulge in the five cent candy bins. Contributing to my chocolate craze is that my birthday falls just before Halloween and therefore I always had Halloween/costume themed birthday parties that never were without a piñata filled with candy and chocolate. My favorite chocolate as a kid was Reese’s peanut butter cups, created in 1928. As a child of the 1980s and 1990s, bulk chocolate was what I indulged in and the only chocolate I knew. Now, in my thirties I continue to crave chocolate but my taste for it has evolved over the last 20 years, as has the market for chocolate. Nowadays, I tend to purchase my chocolate at higher end grocers and specialty stores. Until taking this chocolate class, I knew very little about the history, culture and politics of chocolate and knew nothing about the supply chain. Gaining valuable insight from the Harvard Extension School chocolate course, I now have some tools to analyze chocolate in terms of its quality. For this project I will analyze the ‘Chocolove’ chocolate company and my go-to chocolate bar in recent years, the Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar, which contains 55% cocoa content and claim’s to be of premium quality. I will examine this particular bar according to ingredients, bean quality and certifications to determine if this bar warrants the ‘premium’ label and meets the ethical standards being disseminated by the industry.

chocolove 1

In the U.S. for a product to be called “chocolate”, it must contain a minimum of fifteen percent liquor (Williams and Eber p170). Chocolate liquor, also called cocoa mass, is both the cocoa powder and the cocoa butter combined after the bean is harvested, fermented, dried, roasted, and grinded. Many times, additional cocoa butter will be added to the liquor in making chocolate. In evaluating the ingredients of the Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar made by Chocolove, let us first look at the ingredients section on the wrapper. In this particular bar, the ingredients are broken down into three key components: Dark chocolate (cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla) almonds, sea salt. Dark chocolate is a product of the prepared cacao beans that come from the cacao pods, a large colorful fruit found on the cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao).  One point of confusion for me prior to taking this course was the difference between Cacao and Cocoa? Many premium chocolate bars list their cacao percentage on their labels, but Chocolove lists its cocoa content. To clarify, cacao refers to the raw material that comes from the cacao tree while cocoa is the Anglicization of the word cacao and refers to the commodity once it is processed, as learned in our lecture by Carla Martin. In recent years, the use of the word cacao has increased as a way to connect the product to its historical links and to differentiate it from bulk commodity cocoa.

Cocoa-pod-on-a-dark-wooden-table-Stock-Photo-cocoa-cacao-bean

The Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar is 55% cocoa and therefore well above the minimum standard to be considered chocolate. It is also located in the “fine” and “premium” chocolate section of the store, suggesting to me that they must be of higher quality than the bulk chocolate made by the largest chocolate companies, namely Hershey, Mars, Ferrero and Nestle. When determining whether a chocolate is of premium quality, a definition for premium is needed. According to Williams and Eber there is no universal standard for premium chocolate and it can be whatever one claims it to be but it is widely understood that premium chocolate is linked with its cacao origin and percentage (p 168), as I have suggested above. In researching the source of Chocolove’s cacao, I discovered that the company is a chocolatier, rather than a chocolate maker. As a chocolatier, they buy finished Belgian chocolate and then melt it, re-temper it, add inclusions (nuts, fruit, etc.), pour it into molds, pop it out and wrap it in fine paper. In comparison, a chocolate maker makes their own chocolate from dried cacao beans and then proceeds to add other ingredients, etc.

Chocolove purchases its chocolate from Callabaut, a century old Belgian chocolate company that supplies premium quality chocolate to chefs and chocolatiers around the world and whose website says its chocolate is made with the best, sustainable beans of West Africa.  For much of the 20th century, “the place of manufacture became more important to appreciating chocolate than the place of origin” and thus (Leissle, p22) Belgian chocolate, where this product is made, stood out as desirable quality to consumer’s rather than the place of origin, say Ghana. In other words, chocolate’s flavor/style was organized by its place of manufacture which can be described as follows: “French (dark, heavy roast), Swiss (extra cocoa-butter creamy), Belgian (soft milk), British (caramel milk), and American (milky, slightly sour Hershey flavor)” (Leissle, 22-23). During the height of this period, other notions of  chocolate quality developed as well, such as Emma Robertson’s finding that it was believed that “the best qualities of cocoa come from the West Indies, South American and the East Indies” (p 74) rather than Africa which may be linked to racial discrimination due to the African ownership of these cacao farms vs. the white owners of the non-African cacao producing areas. Toward the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, single-origin chocolate has emerged as the leading quality in a craft chocolate market. Craft chocolate is a whole new dimension, whereby small-scale bean to bar chocolate production using vintage equipment is the newest and greatest thing (Martin and Sampeck, p53). While Chocolove is housed on the same shelves as craft chocolate companies, craft chocolate is in different class, entirely, and at a much higher price point.

The other factor to consider in quality, are the other ingredients in the bar. In this case, sugar, soy lecithin and vanilla are added. The type of sugar used in this bar is non-GMO beet sugar from Europe as claimed on Chocolove’s FAQs (https://www.chocolove.com/faq/). Chocolove uses this information as part of a marketing tool that appeals to individuals who are health conscience about the ways in which foods are grown.  In evaluating the amount of sugar added to this bar, the nutrition panel is very helpful, as it states the number of grams per serving size. As a caveat, one should be aware that there are no guidelines or rules for how companies determine a serving size. In this case, there are three servings in this 3.2 ounce bar. Each serving contains 11 grams of sugar. One must do a bit of math to determine the amount of sugar in the entire bar, which happens to be 33 grams or eight teaspoons. Recent Food and Drug Administration guidelines suggest limiting added sugar to less than 50 grams a day and less than 10% of your daily caloric intake (http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/11/sugar-is-the-devil). Upon realizing that this bar contains 30 grams of sugar, more than half of the FDA suggested daily limit, I am displeased with this finding as I tend to consume the entire bar in one sitting. I would guess that other chocolate bars with higher cocoa content would contain a lot less sugar, but in comparing other Chocolove bars with 65% and 70% cocoa content, this is not the case. They also contain high amounts of sugar.

I will also examine Chocolove’s sustainability and socially responsibility. They showcase an entire page of their website on this subject and have an additional “Chocolove social website” where one can go to more thoroughly engage in their programs and certifications. Chocolove works with several organizations and is engaged with a number of ways, but it is important to point out that these engagements do not affect the taste of Chocolove’s chocolate bars.

Fair trade, “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade” (Sylla, p64-65). This certification is highly sought after by ethically conscience high-end chocolate connoisseurs. Chocolove offers three of its 30 distinct bars as Fair trade chocolate and do so because of the demand for it. At the same time, they decisively educate their consumer that manufacturer’s of fair trade chocolate can legally mix non-fair trade chocolate into their bars as long as there is a ‘mass balance’ system in place. This is just one of many of the issues with the fair trade certification. Other findings shared by Carla Martin in Lecture suggest that little money reaches the developing world, there is a failure to monitor systems and that the burden lies on the consumer among other troubles.

for life image

IMO for Life is another certification held by Chocolove, and their bars are labeled with this certification, which states, “This bar is made with cocoa certified by IMO as for Life which means it was farmed in a socially responsible and ethical manner. All of the cocoa bean derived ingredients are certified for Life”. The Sea Salt and Almond Dark Chocolate bar is 45% for Life certified content. This labeling can be traced directly to the farming coop in the producing country. Chocolove’s factory has also been inspected and certified. Chocolove is a contributor to the World Cocoa Foundation, funds projects at the USDA and belongs to the GGC program, all of which are working toward educating farmer’s, improving working conditions, and preserving cacao. They are transparent in their work and seek to engage in layers of sustainability and socially responsible practices. Additionally, Chocolove states their commitment to the consumer and to their employees, whom they offer competitive wages and health care benefits fully paid.

In using the knowledge learned in class, I have analyzed the Chocolove Almonds and Sea Salt Dark Chocolate bar in terms of quality, ingredients and ethical practices to discover that Chocolove is a Chocolatier rather than a chocolate maker and therefore does not fit in the craft chocolate category, but can still fall under premium chocolate, depending on how one defines it. Additionally, Chocolove may not know exactly how its cacao is sourced but does claim to use quality beans and practice sustainable practices. More research will have to determine if the company is truly socially responsible or is just claiming to be, as so many companies do. Lastly, I learned how much sugar this bar and that alone may deter me from purchasing it on a regular basis. Instead, I may open my wallet and my mouth to finer, darker, less sweet options in the future.

Chocolove.com

Leissle, Kristy. 2013. “Invisible West Africa: The Politics of Single Origin Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture.

Mother Jones. http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/11/sugar-is-the-devil

Martin, Carla and Sampeck, Kathryn. 2016. “The Bitter and Sweet of Chocolate in Europe.”

Sylla, Ndongo. 2014. The Fair Trade Scandal.

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

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.”

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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