Tag Archives: tasting

The Luxury Chocolate Tasting of R-Dizzle Rich

Purpose of the Tasting

The purpose of my chocolate tasting was to see whether the attendees could discern between the four various categories for the sourcing and materialization of chocolate as discussed in class and the readings: (1) Direct Trade, (2) Fair Trade, (3) Organic, and (4) Industrialized. Because much of Chocolate class was about the social, anthropological, and economic impacts of and differences between each of these chocolate types, I thought this would be an excellent theme to my tasting that brings historical, socioeconomic, and taste-related views.

FullSizeRender

Figure 1. The fancy invitations I used to invite 7 participants to my tasting.

IMG_5992.jpeg

Figure 2. The participants of my chocolate tasting.


Types of Chocolate in the Tasting

(1) Direct Trade There are four general types of chocolate (based on its production processes) that we have learned in Chocolate class. The first is Direct Trade, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, as these companies have control of its manufacturing process from growing and harvesting of the cacao bean all the way to its packaging and selling into a bar. Direct Trade chocolate is usually a chocolate company that directly deals with farmers. There’s a bit of variation in its manufacturing processes, but this leaves more room for negotiation from the different chocolate companies. Direct Trade companies may place environmental and labor factors into consideration, but not to as far of an extent as other chocolate types such as Fair Trade. In Direct Trade, there is less regulation because it is assumed that there is maximum control between the cacao harvesters, manufacturers, and packagers of the chocolate product. However, the very direct control of these Direct Trade chocolate companies costs a high premium, making their products quite expensive. Because of the rarity of a chocolate company having complete control of an entire chocolate farm, which is usually located outside of the U.S., solely for their company, the quantity of Direct Trade producers which exists is very low.

(2) Fair Trade The second category of chocolates presented was the Fair Trade chocolate type. These mass-produced confections are intended to guarantee a consistent smell and taste, achieved through rigorous oversight and a careful blending of cacao. According to Michael D’Antonio of Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, using liquid condensed milk instead of the powdered milk that the Swiss favored, Schmalbach’s mixture was easier to move through various processes: “…it could be pumped, channeled, and poured — and it required less time for smoothing and grinding. Hershey would be able to make milk chocolate faster, and therefore cheaper, than the Europeans” (D’Antonio 2006: 108). With techniques like these that were melded again and again by Hershey a century ago, efficiency of methods for the mass-production and -distribution of chocolate was possible. However, these efficient industrialized methods definitely compromise the ethics of labor, environmentalism, and health-focuses of these chocolates.

(3) Organic The third type of chocolate that is explored in this tasting is Organic chocolate. Organic chocolates place an emphasis on health and the environment. They do not use pesticides, and because it places such a large, conscious emphasis on these issues, there is a loss of yield that occurs in terms of its production and consumption. These chocolate products also tend to be extremely expensive, for there is usually a rearrangement premium placed on their price tag. Additionally, although organic chocolate products focus on health-related and environmental issues, there is no standard for the laborers of its production. Organic chocolate products must also all undergo certification, and usually the bars themselves are sold in small proportions.

(4) Industrialized The final category of chocolates which were presented during the tasting was Industrialized chocolate. Fair Trade chocolates emphasize the moral ethics of the chocolate production. They prioritize producing ethical, labor-regulated goods, and for this reason they also weigh between ingredient and product. These products also require a certification by one or more of the various Fair Trade certification companies. These groups usually require a type of price threshold, which makes this type of chocolate a little bit more expensive. Fair Trade chocolates also take the environment into account, although oftentimes not as much as Organic chocolates do. Fair Trade chocolates also focus on community development.


Advertising

IMG_5997

Figure 3. The advertising and packaging used for each of the four chocolates used in my tasting.

(1) Direct Trade:

Taza Chocolate, Seriously Dark, 87% Cacao, Organic Dark Chocolate

Screenshot 2019-05-16 16.00.59

Observations of Packaging:

  • Girly
  • Bright colors
  • Easy-to-read font that pops out

(2) Fair Trade:

Seattle Chocolate, Pike Place Espresso, Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Decaf Espresso

Screenshot 2019-05-16 16.01.55

Observations of Packaging:

  • “Adult-like”
  • “Rainy coffeehouse hipster”
  • Elegant
  • Cloudy color scheme (not as bright)

(3) Organic:

Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cacao Nibs & Dark Chocolate, 80% Cocoa

Screenshot 2019-05-16 16.03.04

Observations of Packaging:

  • Simple
  • “Typical coffee colors”
  • Compromise between adult- and kid-themed packaging (could theoretically work for either audience)

(4) Industrialized:

Cadbury, Royal Dark, Dark Chocolate

Screenshot 2019-05-16 16.04.53

Observations of Packaging:

  • Shiny
  • “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
  • Regal, luxurious

 


Works Cited

“Here There Will Be No Unhappiness.” Hershey Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams, by Michael D D’Antonio, Simon & Schuster, 2006, pp. 106–126.

 

 

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

Tasting Chocolate or Tasting Sugar?

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

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

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

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

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

THE RESULTS:

SAMPLE 1: Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar:  Hersheybar

Cacao: 11%

Sugar: 24g per serving

Average taste ranking: 3.05

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

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

SAMPLE 2:  Chocolove XOXOX Milk chocolate 176046b9870bda4f8b0a145311f326ac.jpg

Cacao: 33%

Sugar: 16g per 1/3 bar

Average taste ranking: 3.74

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

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

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

Cacao: 55%

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

Average taste ranking: 3.36

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

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

SAMPLE 4: Raaka Smoked Chai 

Cacao: 66%41RLxHTcxsL

Sugar: 10g per half bar

Average taste ranking:  3.67

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

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

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

Cacao: 85%

Sugar: 5g per 12 pieces

Average taste ranking: 2.78

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

Notable descriptions: “hard to take a big bite”

SAMPLE 6: Taza Wicked Dark 95% wicked_dark_bar_large

Cacao: 95%

Sugar: 2g per ½ packaging

Average taste ranking: 1.64

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

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

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

ANALYSIS OF RESULTS:

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

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

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

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

HERSHEY’S IS DISTINCTIVE:

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

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

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

SUGAR AND CHOCOLATE:

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

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

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

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

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

STEVIA AS A REPLACEMENT:

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

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

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

 

WHY ELSE CHOCOLOVE WON?

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

800px-10_month_old_baby_eating_chocolate
Even babies love chocolate!

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

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

 

SOURCES

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

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

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

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

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

Image sources:

Image 1: My photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Chocolate Tasting: Changing the Impulse Buy

This past week, I conducted a chocolate tasting with a few friends with the goal of bringing the almost unheard of role that slavery plays in the chocolate world to their attention. I accomplished this goal by introducing the group to chocolate produced by companies that have set out to change the standard of the chocolate world. In addition to this, I was able to introduce everyone to how complex and different each taste of dark chocolate can be, and that there are more flavors to be accounted for than just milk or dark. In this blog post, I will be sharing highlights from the tasting.

Chocolate1      Chocolate2

After a trip to Whole Foods for Whole Foods 32% Milk Chocolate, Taza (70%, and Raspberry), Endangered Species Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate, and Theo (65% and 70% chili) and a short stop at a CVS pharmacy for milk and dark Hershey’s chocolate I portioned out the chocolates and saved the wrappers.

I decided that I would conduct a blind tasting, as much as I wanted my group to know what they were eating, I did not want any pre-conceived notions about their first bite except for what they could see, smell, taste, and hear. I conducted the tasting very closely to how Professor Martin conducts the ones in our lectures. (1)

IMG_8180
All of the chocolates, plus some cheese for after the tasting

I assigned each chocolate a letter and a number, mostly so I could keep track of what we were eating. I instructed everyone to smell the chocolate, hold the chocolate up to the light, break the chocolate piece, and then finally taste it. Between each of these steps we paused to discuss what we smelled, what we saw, what we heard, and what we tasted. None of my group had ever evaluated something they were eating in this way, so the process alone was new for them all. This made a few of them nervous, but by the third piece everyone was excited to hold the chocolate to their ear and hear it snap.

I first asked everyone to describe their typical chocolate indulgences, and here is what they gave me:

B: Way too much! I usually have dark chocolate.

J: None, I hate chocolate. I’ll have white chocolate if any.

D: A couple times per week, not in excess. I usually eat Hershey and Reese’s.

L: Every other week or so, sometimes a random Ghiradelli square.

M: Once a week, sometimes more. Chocolate is chocolate to me.

S: Once a month, I either have milk or dark chocolate.

The first chocolate I introduced was Whole Food’s Milk Chocolate. I explained to my group the process we would be following:

1: Smelling our chocolate and discussing different aromas.

2: Looking at our chocolate in the light and listening for a snap when broken.

3: Tasting our chocolate and letting it melt on our tongue to experience the evolution of flavors.

Overall, this chocolate reminded everyone of Christmas:

J: It smells like the type of chocolate you get off of the Christmas countdown calendar. It reminds me of the holidays.

L: I thought it just smelled like hot chocolate.

 

B: It tasted like Christmas.

In addition to the holiday feel, my peers were beginning to develop a great sense of flavor growth, describing how at first they tasted milk and eventually the chocolate became bitter.

The second chocolate I introduced was Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel. This one provoked a lengthy discussion about the pronunciation of “caramel” versus “carmel.” Either way, it ended up being the runner-up favorite of the night.

Everyone was able to pick up the contrast between the milk chocolate, and this first dark chocolate just by smell:
B: I’m smelling a lot of bitter.

J: Gross, just gross. I’m so sorry but I really just don’t like chocolate!

S: I’m getting a burnt cardboard scent?

M: Ooh! I’m getting that too, it’s totally like burnt popcorn or something!

The first bite yielded a loud snap as the caramel poured out, leading most to taste the salted caramel before they even reached the chocolate.

M: Wow, that’s good caramel. I like this one. I can’t even tell it’s bitter.

S: So much better than the last one. I’m going to guess this is 60% cacao.

D: The last one went from sweet and milky to bitter, and this one went from bitter to salty.

I’m still not sure how, but S was right on the nose with how much cacao was in this chocolate, but I’m pretty amazed with that prediction!

At this point while everyone was looking at the packaging, many questions about Fair Trade came up which led me into a quick rundown of Fair Trade practices, both good and bad. Fair Trade members and certified companies agree on the same principles: long-term direct trading relationships, consistent payment of both fair prices and wages, no child/forced/exploited labor of any form, workplace non-discrimination, gender equity, freedom of association, safe working conditions with reasonable hours, investment in community development projects, environmental sustainability, traceability and transparency. (2) Fair Trade is doing some really excellent work, but it’s almost too good to be entirely true. It’s a long and expensive processes to become certified Fair Trade, which is a burden that is mostly weighted by the farmers. In addition to this, there’s no evidence yet that their changes are actually holding up. In the end, it’s really just a label for the rich, who can afford this price and feel good about what they’re eating. 

Next up, the third chocolate, was Theo’s Chili chocolate bar, which is 70% cacao. Personally, I was scared of this chocolate as I don’t like spicy food, and I didn’t have enough chocolate to taste it beforehand myself.

Taste wise in the beginning, it took quite a bit longer than the others to melt down but when it did there was a raucous reaction filling the room!

L: It’s there, it’s definitely there.

M: It takes a really long time to melt down…Ewwww!!! No no no no.

D: It’s really subtle, until the spice kicked in it felt like putting something tasteless in my mouth. There’s some orange in that, it’s weird.

J: Yeah, there’s orange in there. Still gross, still sucks.

Theo 65% cacao chocolate was up next. As we began to sniff this chocolate, a discussion erupted, and it was a great reminder that all sensory is relative and extremely personal.

M: This one smells calmer, very natural.

S: I feel like I’m smelling nature, maybe a rain forest.

D: I don’t know what you guys are talking about I don’t smell sh*t!

Stuckey (3) tells us that when something tastes good, it also has to look, feel, and sound good. Everyone has their own opinion of what “good” is, so the way each person percieves each sample can be night and day.

Even though D didn’t smell anything, this chocolate ended up being their favorite. In fact, D will be moving out to Seattle this summer, and will be living pretty close to the Theo factory.

S: This is a good happy medium, where chocolate should be. Sweet and bitter at the same time.

M: This is a dark chocolate I would be okay with, and I don’t usually eat dark chocolate.

After this we moved onto Taza, starting with their 70% cacao. Everyone took notice of how sparkly and grainy this chocolate was, this caused a bit of confusion as far as looking for the shine or gloss goes.

D: It’s like biting into cookie dough that just came out of the fridge.

M: It’s just so grainy I don’t think I could eat more than a triangle of this at a time.

The second Taza chocolate I picked out was their raspberry flavored chocolate bar. I think by this point everyone was getting sick of the rich dark chocolate flavors, so the introducion of a sweeter flavor completely lit up everyone’s palettes.

D: I’m smelling more with this one. It doesn’t smell like chocolate but I can’t put my finger on it.

J: I smell plastic.

B: I know this smell but I can’t say what it is. I don’t know.

L: I smell raspberry, or a fruity scent.

Just a reminder that I waited to tell everyone what they were eating until after they ate it, so L guessing what it was right away is pretty impressive.

M: Ooh that’s sweet!

D: Definitely raspberry right away.

L: This is my favorite one thus far.

S: It’s too sweet for me, but it’s nice.

Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate was up next, and as far as smell goes, this one had a more positive yet stale reaction.

M: This one smells like Hershey, Pennsylvania!

L: I gotta be honest, this one does smell the best.

When we held this chocolate to the light everyone took notice of that classic engravings in addition to it being the shiniest chocolate we’d tasted yet. Additionally, this chocolate bar failed the snap test.

D: So their milk chocolate must just be a glass of milk?

No one could pinpoint what flavors they were tasting, so I introduced them to the idea that all Hershey’s chocolate has a sour milk tint of flavor to it. After this it was unanimous that there was a sour profile.

S: My mouth feels a bit sticky, like that film you get when you have something that’s too sugary.

By the time we tasted Hershey’s Specialty Dark Chocolate, everyones palates had been exposed to lots of dark chocolate so the taste that was expected was very different from the taste they received. Everyone agreed that this was barely even dark chocolate in comparison to Taza and Theo, and they were correct to think so as it’s only 45% cacao.

I decided to finish with the least chocolate-y of chocolates, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate for one reason;  that was to show the immense contrast between authentic and true dark chocolate and typical every day milk chocolate. I was not an avid chocolate consumer before this course started.  If I ever bought a bar from a checkout counter or vending machine, odds are I handed it off to a friend to finish for me. Personally, it was an acquired taste and I am now learning to love all of the different flavors in each dark chocolate bar.  Switching back to milk chocolate tends to play tricks on your brain as to whether or not it is really even chocolate at all.

Overall, I set out to raise an awareness of the use of slaves and the politics of the chocolate world. In the end, I introduced everyone to a new set of flavors and a deeper understanding of what they’re putting into their mouths when they reach for that impulse buy. As much as I tried to steer the conversation towards the politics and policies of the companies, I was asked many questions about health benefits and price points of the big chocolate companies versus these smaller chocolate companies.

I explained how in the early 2000’s child labour in the cacao industry came to the media’s attention. Children would essentially be kidnapped and forced into hard labor with no escape, making them slaves to the chocolate industry. (4) After introducing the Harkin Engel Protocol, jaws dropped. I gave everyone a quick and dirty run down of how the protocol was created to put an end to the worst forms of child labor and child labor altogether, and how it ultimately left a worse impact with little to no change between 2007 and 2014. 

This new awareness left my group feeling surprised and a bit shocked. When I asked them if they foresee themselves making the switch from their typical big 5 chocolate to a more socioeconomically friendly chocolate, I yielded an interesting reaction:

B: My likeliness to go out of my way to spend more money on a “better” chocolate depends on how badly I am doing financially that week. If I can swing it I’ll go for the Theo chili chocolate, but if it’s a week like this I will be getting that $1 Dove bar from the vending machine at work.

People will try to save money wherever they can, so switching from a frequent $1 purchase to a $2.50-$7 chocolate bar can leave a big financial impact for those who aren’t earning a consistent salary, which in today’s world can be a large segment of the market.

Sources:

1-  Martin, Carla D. 2015. Lecture 10: Alternative Trade and Virtuous Localization/Globalization on April 6, 2016

2- 2-Fair Trade Mission Statement https://fairtradeusa.org/about-fair-trade-usa/mission

3- Stuckey, Barb: Taste What You’re Missing, p.13

4- Ryan, Orla: Chocolate Nations, p.44

5- The Harkin Engel Protocol, http://www.slavefreechocolate.org/harkin-engel-protocol/

Can You Taste the Terroir? Sampling Single Origin Chocolates for a Sense of Place

The French term terroir can be described as “the web that connects and unifies raw materials, their growing conditions, production processes, and the moment of product appreciation” (Nesto, 131).  This sense of place that can be discerned in a final product is most often associated with wine, an industry in which there is much stricter regulation of geographic labeling of the origin of raw materials and a longer history of vineyard differentiation (Nesto, 134).  In the chocolate industry, single origin generally refers to chocolate made only from cacao grown in one region.  Chocolate produced from cacao from different regions varies in taste due to “the local soil and environment bringing out inherent genetic characteristics” and “the way in which particular styles of drying and fermentation have distinct effects on overall flavor and aroma” (Presilla, 126).

Nineteenth-century advertisement for chocolate that emphasizes the cacao’s Caracas, Venezuela origins, equating origins with quality. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13177/13177-h/images/caracas.jpg

Since cacao began to be exported to Europe, cacao origins have varied in importance.  Cacao has always been sold to merchants based on its origins, whether the origin is defined as the plantation on which it was grown, the region in which it was produced, or the port from which it was shipped (Nesto, 134).  At different points in history, cacao from certain regions was prized due to its high quality, with cacao from particular parts of Mexico, Venezuela, or Colombia advertised and favored by consumers for periods during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Presilla, 124; Leissle, 22).  The advertisement above shows how cacao origins (in this case, Caracas) were used to market chocolate to consumers as high quality.

World map highlighting cacao growing countries, including Trinidad, Venezuela, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Madagascar. All of the highlighted countries fall within 20 degrees of the equator. http://www.kemeh.com/images/worldmap-new.jpg

Over the last century or so, cacao origins became more obscured, as production shifted to other parts of the globe, with the vast majority of cacao now grown in West Africa, and with chocolatiers producing chocolate by blending cacao of various origins (Nesto, 134).  The map above illustrates how cacao production has shifted far beyond its Central and South American origins.  Both the artisanal chocolate makers and the corporate giants, such as Hershey and Cadbury, blend cacao beans from different places and different strains in an attempt to produce a more balanced, consistent chocolate and to distance the final product from its controversial origins in West Africa (Presilla, 126; Leissle, 23).

Single origin chocolate did not start making a comeback until the 1980s, with the resurgence of artisans and the rising interest in food origins (Leissle, 23).  While single origin chocolate still represents a tiny fraction of the world chocolate industry, there are myriad artisanal chocolatiers today producing bars highlighting the distinct, unexpected regional flavors of cacao — its terroir (Leissle, 23; Williams and Eber, 167).

Four single origin Francois Pralus bars, purchased at Cardullo's.  Photo is my own.
Four single origin Francois Pralus bars, purchased at Cardullo’s. Photo is my own.

In order to further explore terroir and to see if differences in place truly translated into recognizable differences in taste, I decided to host a single origin chocolate tasting for my friends.  I chose four single origin bars from the French chocolatier Francois Pralus: Trinidad, Venezuela, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Madagascar, as pictured above.  The choice of chocolatier was influenced by my wish to choose a variety of bars from different regions of the world made by the same chocolatier and with the same ingredients and percentage of cacao (75% for the Pralus bars), in order to minimize flavor discrepancies from factors other than region.  Of course, one confounding factor that I found impossible to avoid was bean type, since different varieties of cacao are much more commonly grown in certain regions.  The Trinidad and Venezuela bars were both made with Trinitario cacao, while the São Tomé and Príncipe bar derived from Forastero beans and the Madagascar bar contained Criollo cacao.  As a point of comparison for the single origin bars and to practice tasting chocolate, I also provided my friends with Dove milk and dark chocolate, which are blended bars at a much lower price point.  The entire selection of chocolates that we tasted is pictured below.

Four single origin Pralus bars with Dove milk and dark chocolate bars. Photo is my own.
Four single origin Pralus bars with Dove milk and dark chocolate bars. Photo is my own.

For the single origin bars, we tasted them as a group, moving from west to east through the different origins.  All of the Pralus bars had a hard snap and dark brown color, but some of them differed quite a bit in other ways.  The Trinidad bar had a smooth, matte exterior and smelled bitter and smoky with some citrus and coffee notes.  The taste of the Trinidad bar was similar: bitter, astringent, and charred with only a hint of citrus.  While the bar was praised for its smooth texture, and slow, clean melt, almost all of my friends disliked the burnt aftertaste and astringent finish.  The Venezuela bar (also made from Trinitario cacao) had a very faint citrus scent, as well as a more subdued taste, with an arc from bitter to sweet with notes of citrus and earthiness.  The Venezuela bar had a matte exterior and melted more quickly, with a creamier and sweeter finish.

While the genetics of cacao are actually quite complicated, varieties have historically been classed as Criollo, Forastero, or Trinitario (with Trinitarios representing a cross between the other two). http://bloguldeciocolata.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/types_of_cocoa.png

After the Trinidad and Venezuela bars, we switched to African island origins and different cacao varieties.  The São Tomé and Príncipe bar (Forastero cacao) was much shinier and had a mild smell, with hints of bitterness, earthiness, and citrus.  Its taste arc went from sweet and citrusy to bitter, salty, and earthy.  The Madagascar bar (Criollo cacao) had a very light scent, with mild fruity and bitter notes.  However, the taste of the Madagascar bar was strong and varied, with creamy, buttery, earthy, smoky, fruity and citrusy elements.  The Madagascar bar, with its sweeter, fruitier notes and comparative lack of bitterness, was the overall favorite of the four Pralus bars we tasted.  A quote by Chloé Doutre-Roussel in Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate accurately encompasses the chocolate tasting: “You have to give the flavor notes of chocolate many tastes and chances.  It doesn’t mean you’ll actually like the chocolates but you may and you certainly will appreciate them” (Williams and Eber, 144).  While my friends may not have particularly enjoyed many of the Pralus bars, they could appreciate the complexity and diversity of flavors.

Pralus Madagascar Plantation Video

Francois Pralus at his cacao plantation in Madagascar. http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/img_droite/plantation8_0.jpg

The single origin bars we tried at my chocolate tasting were all produced by Francois Pralus, a French chocolatier who sources beans from many different countries in order to produce 15 single origin bars, as well as some blended bars (http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/en).  Pralus also owns and operates his own plantation in Madagascar, as seen in the video and photograph above, so the Madagascar bar is even single plantation chocolate (http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/en).  Both on his website and on the packaging, Pralus emphasizes the regional differences and unique flavors of the cacao from each origin, even specifically speaking of terroir and comparing cacao vintages to great wines (http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/en).  One of things that sets Pralus apart from many other single origin chocolate producers is his willingness to create single origin bars with cacao from African countries, including Ghana (bar shown below) and São Tomé and Príncipe (pictured earlier) in West Africa, instead of just focusing on more traditionally prized chocolate regions in the Americas (Leissle, 23).

Pralus single origin Ghana bar. Few chocolatiers create single origin bars highlighting West African chocolate, even though the vast majority of cacao is grown in the region. http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/sites/default/files/gahna-copie.png

While some chocolatiers such as Francois Pralus believe in the importance of terroir and are committed to producing at least some single origin bars, single origin chocolate is not without its problems and detractors.  The first complaint about single origin chocolate is that there are no official or industry definitions of many terms associated with such chocolate and “origin” can refer to areas as a large as an entire country (Nesto, 134).  The lack of agreement over what constitutes single origin chocolate means there can be major discrepancies between what chocolatiers consider to be a region and that references to origins are sometimes more of a marketing tool than a signifier of quality or flavor profile (Williams and Eber, 173).  Even with the Pralus single origin bars, some are produced with cacao from a single plantation, while others use cacao from a certain part of the country, a cacao cooperative, or from the country as a whole.  Another contentious aspect of the lack of regulation is that single origin chocolate is often associated with higher quality beans and ingredients, especially given its generally higher price point, but there are no rules regarding the quality or type of beans used in single origin bars (Williams and Eber, 168-71).

The Pralus Djakarta bar, which blends Indonesian and Ghanaian cacao. http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/sites/default/files/djakarta-copie.png

The second major issue with single origin chocolate is taste.  While some praise the unique flavors associated with cacao from specific regions and the variation between harvests, others argue that blending can produce a more consistent, better tasting chocolate.  Throughout history, chocolatiers have blended cacao from different origins or varieties in order to enhance the flavor, creating a chocolate with “a total effect greater than the sum of its parts” (Presilla, 126).  Even Francois Pralus produces some blended bars, including the Djakarta and Caracas bars shown above and below, which incorporate some Ghanaian cacao to balance the flavor.  Both of these bars are somewhat problematic, since the packaging makes them look like single origin chocolates, but the fine print on the back and the information on the Pralus website do acknowledge that they are blended bars.  Blending also allows chocolate makers to concoct flavors that vary less from year to year, providing a more uniform product for consumers, who often desire the same experience every time, and chefs, who need consistency for their confections (Williams and Eber, 177-8).  Another reason some chocolate companies practice blending is also cost: by using cheaper cacao as the base and only using small quantities of high-quality beans for flavor, producers can create a chocolate that tastes better for less money (Presilla, 126; Williams and Eber, 180-3).

The Pralus Caracas bar, which incorporates Venezuelan and Ghanaian cacao. http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/sites/default/files/caracas-copie.png

At the end of the day, chocolate consumption is primarily about taste: consumers seek an enjoyable experience and chocolate that tastes good.  Personally, I love trying different types of chocolate and experiencing unique flavors, and I appreciate the vast range of tastes that can be experienced through single origin chocolates.  I also think it is important not to completely sever areas of cacao production from the finished product: single origin bars and the associated terroir are one way to retain an essence of the place of production in the consumption experience, and by emphasizing the origins over the country of manufacture, focus is partially shifted back to the oft-forgotten plantations and growers.   However, I also only truly enjoy and would spend money on tastes that I find pleasant.  While my friends and I had fun tasting single origin chocolate bars and distinguishing the different characteristics connected with cacao from particular regions, none of us particularly enjoyed the Pralus bars and I would not buy them again given the high price point ($10 and up for a 3.5 ounce bar).  For me, an ideal chocolate balances concerns for price, taste, and terroir.

Works Cited

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

Nesto, Bill. “Discovering Terroir in the World of Chocolate.” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 10:1 (2010): 131–135.

Pralus, Francois.  “Francois Pralus: Maitre Chocolatier.” Accessed May 4, 2014. http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/en

Presilla, Maricel. The New Taste of Chocolate, Revised: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2009.

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