Learning How to Taste Chocolate

Have you ever really tasted your food?  I mean really tasted it?

While our population has certainly become more sophisticated about food, people are still shoving it in their mouths while texting and tweeting, or driving and talking, that I’m not sure most people really take the time to enjoy what they are eating.  With two toddlers at home, I’m certainly guilty of this.  I’m just trying to get through mealtime without a breakdown, I’m definitely not savoring each bite.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to take part in a Sensory Training class last week as part of my job at Lake Champlain Chocolates.  First some background, LCC has had a Sensory Panel for over 10 years.  The panel, comprised of employees from all facets of the company, meets once a week to compare products, test shelf life, taste R&D products in the works and test and taste raw ingredients (such as nuts and fruits that go into our chocolate).  All this to ensure every product from LCC is of the highest quality and of the same consistency time and time again.

The panel needed some new members so five of us spend 3 mornings learning how to taste chocolate.  As I said earlier, not just taste it, but really taste it.  (I know, it’s a tough place to work)  At the end of the three sessions, one employee who has been here and eating our chocolate for 20 years, said she had never really tasted it until now.  Amazing stuff.

I will attempt to impart some of what we learned over the course of those three days, so perhaps you can carve out some time to sit with our chocolate (or any food really) and smell, taste and savor each bite.  It really makes it that much more enjoyable when you take the time to identify the flavors and textures happening in your mouth.  So without further ado, here are some bullet points to consider:

First there are the 4 basic tastes:
1.    Sweet
2.    Salt
3.    Sour
4.    Bitter

Every food has at least one basic taste.  The four basic tastes however do not have odors.  So when someone says “it smells sweet” they probably smell vanilla, because “sweet” does not have a smell.

When tasting a piece of chocolate, consider the following:
1.    Appearance
2.    Aroma
3.    Flavor
4.    Aftertaste
5.    Texture

We spent a lot of time tasting different milk chocolates (both LCC and competitors) and it was amazing the difference between them all.  Just the aroma alone varied greatly, including aromas of vanilla, cooked milk, chocolate liquor and even a little cheesy!

Speaking of chocolate liquor, noting the percentages of cocoa on packaging is quite popular these days, but don’t be fooled.  I learned that the percentage of chocolate liquor (or cocoa content) does not necessarily dictate how chocolaty something will taste.  It all depends on the type of chocolate liquor used in the product, where the liquor came from (the terroir), how it was processed and what other ingredients are used.

It’s mind boggling when you think about how much goes into creating chocolate and chocolate confections.  We spent one entire morning smelling and tasting different milks (cooked milk, heavy cream, skim milk powder, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, buttermilk and plain yogurt).  I’ll spare you the details of that particular exercise, but it goes to show you the complexities of creating a superior product when you pay attention to all the details.

LCC’s commitment to constantly tasting and comparing our chocolates and ingredients ensures the customer can be guaranteed the same amazing flavor each time.  Whether it’s a gourmet truffle bought at our factory store, a Caramel Five Star Bar bought at a Whole Foods Market or a Grace Under Fire Bar bought online, we know you’re going to be impressed by its aroma, appearance and flavor.

So next time you find yourself about to eat a piece of chocolate, take a moment to close your eyes and smell the aroma, notice the flavors in your mouth, the texture and the aftertaste.  You’ll be even more amazed than you were before!