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The actual flavor compounds found in dark chocolate exceed those of red wine, and detecting all these notes can be an extremely fun and educational endeavor. The following will serve as a guideline, so that you can extract the fullest flavor potential from dark chocolate.
- Find a location free from background noise, such as television, music, a crying baby, road traffic noise, talkative friends etc. Being able to concentrate as intently as possible will facilitate flavor detection.
- Clear your palate. This means that your mouth should not contain residual flavors from a previous meal. Eat a wedge of apple or piece of bread if necessary. This is crucial in order to taste the subtleties of chocolate's complex flavor.
- Make sure that the piece of chocolate is large enough to accommodate full evolution of the flavor profile. A piece too small may not allow you to detect every subtle nuance as the chocolate slowly melts. The important thing to remember is that flavor notes gradually evolve and unfold on the tongue rather than open up in one large package. So remember, don't think small here. 10g should be a minimum starting point.
- Allow the chocolate to rest at room temperature before tasting. Cold temperatures will hinder your ability to detect the flavors. Some even advise that you rub the chocolate briefly between your fingers to coax the flavor. This procedure is optional.
- Look at the chocolate. The surface should be free of blemishes such as white marks (called bloom). Observe the color and manufacturer's job at molding and tempering. Does the chocolate appear to have been crafted carefully or slovenly? The bar should have a radiant sheen. Chocolate comes in a multifarious brown rainbow with various tints, such as pinks, purples, reds, and oranges. What do you see?
- Break the piece in half. It should resonate with a resounding "SNAP!" and exhibit a fine gradient along the broken edge. This is quality stuff!
- Smell the chocolate, especially at the break point. The aroma is an important component of flavor. Inhaling will prime the tongue for the incoming chocolate. It also gives you a chance to pick up the various nuances of the aroma.
- Place the chocolate on the tongue and allow it to arrive at body temperature. Let it melt. Chew it only to break it into small enough pieces that it begins to melt on its own. After all, we're tasting and not eating! This step is crucial, for it allows the cocoa butter to distribute evenly in the mouth, which mutes any astringencies or bitterness in the chocolate.
- Observe the taste and texture. As the chocolate melts, concentrate on the flavors that are enveloping your tongue. Melting will release more volatile compounds for you to smell. Close your eyes, take notes, enjoy this moment of bliss, and bask in contentment. Texture can be the most obvious clue about the quality of a chocolate. Low quality chocolates will have a grainy almost cement-like texture.
- Now the chocolate is nearing its finish. How has the flavor evolved? Is the chocolate bitter? Heavy? Light? Was the texture smooth or grainy? Do any changes in texture and flavor occur? Take note of how the chocolate leaves the palate. Is there a strong reminder lingering in your mouth, or does it quickly vanish? Note any metallic or unpleasant flavors in the finish. This is a sign of stale or lower quality chocolate.
- Repeat the process with a different chocolate. The comparison will highlight the subtle flavor notes in each chocolate. By sure to cleanse your palate thoroughly before tasting each different chocolate.
- Dark chocolate (as opposed to other kinds of chocolate) is considered healthy, and recommended for daily consumption in small amounts to maintain a healthy heart and lower cholesterol.
- Dark chocolate is also an excellent energy source, because it releases slowly into the bloodstream and does not elevate insulin levels. (Indeed, dark chocolate has a GI rating of a mere 22.) As a result, the sustained energy it provides is ideal for endurance activities and even weight-training routines.
- If you don't like dark chocolate, start with a very mild dark chocolate such as 45-55% cacao. A good example of this is Bournville, an easily available brand (in the UK) with distinctive packaging. The packaging is a dark red. Mild dark chocolate will taste similar to milk chocolate and won't be too bitter. If you are more adventurous, you can get dark chocolates that go all the way up to 100% cacao (i.e., unsweetened).
- The formation of whitish spots, or bloom, on chocolate is due to a separation of some of the fat in the chocolate, caused when it is exposed to heat, and then it is cool again. While it affects the aesthetics of the chocolate somewhat, it isn't harmful to eat or use chocolate that has bloomed. Bloom is related to heat and humidity, so store chocolate in a cool, dry place free of odors.
- Remember that most of all, you should enjoy dark chocolate, and don't be too pretentious, because you'll turn people off instead of turning them on to dark chocolate.
- Here are some excellent brands to try: Omanhene, Michel Cluizel, Boehms, Perugina, Wedel, Domori, Amedei, Valrhona, Neuhaus, Marcolini, Lindt, Felchlin, Guittard, Scharffen Berger, Santander, Malagasy, Weiss, El Rey, Theo, Bonnat, Pralus, Cote D'or, Castelain, Slitti, Dagoba, Green and Black's, Bournville, Ghirardelli and Xocai.
- While a little dark chocolate is good for you, a lot is not healthy. Even dark chocolate is loaded with calories and can cause weight gain.
- If you are allergic to chocolate, you may prefer to decline it.
Chocolate contains the stimulant theobromine. (This stimulant is not present in Xocai chocolate products.) The physical onset of this stimulant is much slower than caffeine, so while chocolate may not keep you from falling asleep, your sleep may be disturbed in the middle of the night. Theobromine can easily cause epileptic seizures and potential death in dogs.
- Since chocolate can kill dogs, birds, and other animals, never feed chocolate to an animal.
Things You'll Need
- A good sense of taste
- Good Quality Dark Belgian chocolate
- An open mind
- A healthy attitude
- A tranquil spot or special event
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Sources and Citations
- A WebMD.com article on the health benefits of dark chocolate
- SeventyPercent.com - Reviews, discussions, and articles about fine chocolate.
- Articles on the health benefits of dark chocolate on RealAge.com
- An article on the selection and storage of chocolate.