Tag Archives: Food

Savour: Chocolate Tasting

“Never say savor when you only mean taste – one is a holding on the tongue and an intoxication and the other is cursory, a sampling, connoting reluctance to bask. Never say a thing you don’t mean.” 

Bryana Johnson (Poet)

Tasting chocolate is different from chocolate tasting.  If it seems as if I’m quibbling, I promise I am not.  What’s the difference you say?  One is a quick, almost involuntary, response to something you put in your mouth.  The other is a slow and purposeful exploration of the senses and the mind.  You can actually test this statement using chocolate.

In Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic there is a challenge to taste two pieces of the same dark chocolate at different speeds.  You are instructed to eat the first piece quickly.  Put it in your mouth, chew a few times and swallow.  Between the first and second tasting you should cleanse your palate with water.  The second piece of chocolate should be approached with slowness.  Hold it cupped in your hand and hold it close to your face.  Breathe in deeply and then put the chocolate in your mouth.  Let the piece of chocolate begin to melt in your mouth before you begin chewing.  You should be able to taste a difference between the slow and the fast.  For some people it will register as more sweetness when you go slowly, for other’s there will be hints of other flavors.  There is no right or wrong taste.  It is an individual experience.

 Where, When, What, Why and How

Before we talk chocolate tasting, there are some basic considerations and preparations.  I’ll begin with the setting.  Setting is important for many reasons.  Smells, sounds, and external stimuli all impact the process of tasting.  Choosing your location lets you control potential distractions like TV, computers or music.  Certain sounds and pitches can literally change the way you taste things.  Take a look at the article, “How Does Sound Affect The Ways We Experience Food and Drink?”

Choosing your setting also allows you to control smells like colognes, perfumes, lotions, hair products or even pleasant household smells!   Heavy smells of any kind can interfere with the olfactory portions of tasting.

Timing is everything, or in this case can make a big difference.  There is no set hour or day of the week, but you should pick a time that allows you to feel relaxed.  Feeling like you have to hurry is a distraction and will take some of the fun out of it.

After where and when, comes what.  What type of chocolate are you going to taste?  Are you sticking to one variety from different vendors?  Are you comparing and contrasting types of chocolate?  Or are you sampling different flavor varieties of one type of chocolate?  Think about why you want to do a tasting and choose accordingly.  Whichever you choose, try to limit yourself to 6 chocolates.  If you try to taste more than 6 per setting, your pleasant tasting may become a chore.  For a complete beginner I’d even suggest sticking to 3 or 4.

In addition to your chocolates of choice, you will need a palate cleanser.  This can be as simple as water, or it can include things like crackers and apple slices.  If you buy a block of chocolate, you might need a knife and cutting board.  If you are a lone taster, make sure you’ve gathered something in which to store your left over chocolate, presuming you have the self-control required to resist eating it all in one setting.  If you’re like me and may not remember details about each chocolate, you may want to have a pen and some paper handy to take notes.

This brings me to engaging your mind, as well as senses.  As you’ve read, there is already a bit of thought that goes into a chocolate tasting.  But beyond the questions of what, where, when, and why is how you approach chocolate tasting.  Although it is not inherently necessary to know anything about the chocolate chosen for a tasting, learning a little bit about your chocolate can enhance the experience.

For instance, if you’ve chosen to sample 3-4 dark chocolate varieties with 86% cacao, you might want to know a little bit about the origins, growing conditions and processing of your chocolate.  In this particular instance, many of these chocolates will have distinct overtones based on all three of those factors.  If you are comparing and contrasting dark (bittersweet and semi-sweet), milk, and white chocolate, you might want to know what traits define each type of chocolate.  The types of chocolate are determined by the amount of cacao, milk solids, and sugars they contain.  If you are a traveler, arm chair or frequent flier, you might be intrigued by the varieties of cacao and the regions in which they are grown.  There is no right or wrong way to approach what you want to learn about chocolate.  Like sense of taste, delving into the informational world of chocolate is an individual quest.

Now it’s time for the nitty-gritty.  Your five senses and your mind are all you need from here on out.

Sight:  This stage is known as presentation.  Upon unwrapping, your chocolate should have a smooth, glossy surface.  If dull, waxy or showing snowflake like marks it has either been the victim of poor tempering and/or bad storage habits.  Ideal storage places chocolate between 59 and 68 degrees in an airtight container.

Sound:  I like what Sandra Boyton wrote, “Good chocolate should have a lively, decisive break.  If it splinters, it is too dry.  If it breaks reluctantly, it is too waxy.  If it folds, something is definitely wrong.”  The snap good chocolate should make is part of the crystal structure formed during tempering.  Chocolate is a six-phase polymorphic crystal, which means it can take on 6 different crystalline structures, and how those little chocolate molecules group together is determined by the temperature of the chocolate when you pour it. Who knew science could be so tasty!

Smell:  Time for some orthonasal olfaction!  Place your piece of chocolate in the palm of your cupped hand, lean in and take a sniff.  Now put your other hand over it and make a chocolate cave.  I’m totally serious.  Okay, maybe not serious, but it is a real instruction.  Once you’ve created your chocolate cave, inhale deeply through your nose.  If you’re mind starts racing, that’s okay.  Thoughts, impressions and memories are the process of the brain trying to identify what it smells.  Is the scent ephemeral or pungent?  Is it here then gone, or does it stick around?  Is there more than one aroma?

Touch: This one involves your hands and you mouth.  During the process of breaking the piece of chocolate and sniffing it, what does it feel like and what is happening to it?  Is it melting?  If not, put it between your forefingers and thumb and hold it there for a few seconds.  Quality chocolate, with high cocoa content, will melt differently than the normal sticky mess that milk chocolate or inferior chocolate will make.  The secret is the combination of high cocoa and cocoa butter.  Many chocolates, milk and dark, will have fillers and/or emulsifiers instead of cocoa butter.  Cocoa butter not only slows the melty mess, but gives your chocolate a fantastic texture.  This brings me around to mouthfeel.  As Boynton says, “This somewhat upoetic expression means texture.  A good piece of chocolate should feel smooth and moist.  And the dark, which may not melt on your hand at all, should begin to melt once it’s setting on your tongue and your mouth closes around it.

A personal aside is, be mindful of what you eat in the hours before you do your tasting.  Anything too acidic or spicy may throw off your tasting groove.  Everyone is a little different, but I have discovered that my palate is deeply affected by the chemistry of my food.  Sticking with bland foods (think pasta with summer veggies), at least a couple hours before your tasting, will put you in the safe zone.

Taste: This last sense is both simple and complex.  Place the piece of chocolate in your mouth, but let it rest on your tongue.  Don’t chew it yet.  Try to let it begin melting on your tongue.  A flavor of some sort should become distinct as it begins to melt.  What descriptors come to mind?  Is it sweet, nutty or bitter?  Does it make you think of flowers?  How about spices?

If the chocolate isn’t melting and/or you’re not getting a distinct flavor, there are a few things you can try.  First bite into the chocolate, try not to chew.  And/or you can pinch your nose while it is melting and/or you are biting gently.  Once you perceive a sensation of some melting, release your nose and inhale through your nose.  This should deliver a flavor burst of some sort.  Your sense of smell is linked to your sense of taste in creating what we describe as flavor.  Without retronasal olfaction, you will not get a true sense of any flavor.

In Tasty:  The Art and Science of What We Eat, John McQuaid uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between taste and smell.  “Each partner has complementary strengths and weaknesses.  Their paths through the brain unite.”  And later in the same chapter, “Taste and smell blend so seamlessly in flavors that the different senses merge, becoming indistinguishable.  The brain even mixes them up.”

When we think about the “smell” of chocolate, we will often default to the idea of sweet, but that is actually the taste.  When we describe a taste we might say something is sharp or tangy, but those are actually descriptors derived from olfaction. Chocolate tasting should help convince you that taste and smell are an old married couple.

For more information on the marriage between your sense of smell and taste click on the picture below from the Monell Center Blog.

 

Parting  Thoughts

If you, like me, obsess over giving something the perfect description, you might want to consider the use of tasting wheels.  The two primary types are texture wheels and flavor/aroma wheels. Both of these are found in the book Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic; but they can also be found online.  Just make sure you specify chocolate before the terms TEXTURE WHEEL OR TASTING WHEEL.  There are so many things to taste and different wheels for each of them.

However and what ever you choose to taste, the experience will likely impact all your future flavor perceptions.  Our sense of smell, McQuaid explains, is hardwired to parts of the brain that “link the past and present.”  This connector is a part of the brain known as the insula, which ultimately helps translate the “body’s internal state and external circumstances.”  So have fun, make some memories, and build your flavor library.

Angel’s Reading List

In the last Savour post, Chocolate, En garde!,  I wrote about the learning process involved in preparing for a chocolate tasting program.  I challenged readers with a quiz; and promised answers.  Here are the answers:

CCN-51; Hawaii; Paso de la Amada, home to the Mokaya; cheese; fresh pears and oranges; clean palate; symbolized the human heart, torn from chest at the moment of sacrifice; money;  an agreement to certify cocoa’s “child labor free” status; froth hot chocolate.

“The secret of food lies in memory – of thinking and then knowing what the taste of cinnamon or steak is.”  Jerry Saltz

Article by Angel, Bon Air Branch

Run Fast. Eat Slow. by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

Spring time in the city of Louisville means one important event is on the horizon – Derby.  While many who have lived here their whole lives might get frustrated with the swarm of people who descend upon our town it’s hard not to get swept up in all the festivities; Thunder, the Boat Race, and many of the other special events that make up this unique time of the year.  An event that until recently wasn’t really on my radar is the Derby mini marathon.

While I have always vaguely been aware of its presence in the Derby events line-up, it seems like recently there has been a running craze.  It seems like every weekend as soon as the weather gets warm there’s a race somewhere!  Now we have color runs, chocolate runs, zombie runs, fun runs, you name it and there is now at least a 5K celebrating its existence.

I ran cross country in high school and have continued to run for exercise and stress reduction into my adulthood.  I never really put much thought into training smart until a couple of years I ago I myself was training for a half marathon and got injured.  After spending several weeks on crutches I vowed I would be smarter about the way I trained.

Although I ran cross country in high school, I’ve only been a casual runner for stress and exercise since so it has been a struggle to get good reliable information to help train properly and avoid further health issues.  I started looking through the library  catalogue one day and found a plethora of books on training for races and building endurance but it was one book in particular that sparked my interest.

Titled Run Fast. Eat Slow: Nourishing Recipes for Athletes by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky, this book is designed specifically to help athletes recover from runs, learn to nourish their bodies with important vitamins and minerals which will help them build endurance while staying healthy and strong.  It has been the first book I’ve discovered which really targets those who want to train and perform better but also provide overall quality health.

Written and created by two long distance career runners, one of which medaled in the Beijing Olympics, these women know what it takes to stay healthy and not become injured.  Some of my favorite recipes in the book include the Runner’s Recovery Tea which at first glance includes some ingredients which to the average person might sound a bit unappetizing (horsetail, dried alfalfa) is surprisingly delicious and pleasant to drink hot or cold.  I was able to easily find all five of the tea ingredients online for large quantities at less than $20 total and will be able to drink a cup of tea after each from for at least the next six month.

There’s also a Long Run Mineral Broth that is fantastic and easy to make.  I’ve never experimented with making broths before and was happy to find it a fairly straightforward process.  This recipe also included a couple of specialty items which took a bit of searching to find but the results made the hunt well worth it.

I love that each recipe is well thought out for a runner in mind and goes through the details of explaining why specific ingredients were chosen and how they aid the runner.  For example, the recovery tea includes aspects which reduce inflammation, help adrenal glands, provide vitamin C and antioxidants, iron, zinc, and phosphorus all things which help your body absorb oxygen, store more calcium for bone strength, and help muscles recover.  The injury I suffered while training is pretty common for runners- a stress fracture, so I’m very aware of bone strength and getting as much calcium as possible.  Just like the recovery tea, just a small mugful of the mineral broth contains vitamins A,C, E, and K.  It also has rich antioxidants and other healing and nourishing ingredients which help speed up recovery time from a long run.  Even the authors claim that if there’s only one recipe you make for yourself as a runner, let it be the mineral broth.

With the time demands of a normal life plus training for any type of race things can get hectic quickly.  I like that many of the recipes included in this book could be made in large batches and then stored for several days, sometimes weeks in the freezer or refrigerator.  It made making some of these which included slightly unusual (or at least unusual for me) ingredients much more manageable because I could make a batch and not have to do it again for a while.

I found all of the recipes I tried very tasty and worth the time spent preparing them for the benefits I received.  The most important lesson I learned, and I’m sure it’s something most seasoned runners already know, is that any type of training you do requires planning and mindfulness.  It’s not enough to simply get out each day, lace up your shoes, pick up a racket, or find a ball, an athlete must have whole and complete health and nutrition to perform their best and avoid injuries.

It’s an exciting time of the year for our city.  Derby is here, it’s getting sunnier, flowers are blooming, and lots and lots of runners are flooding the streets and parks.  If you’re one of them I highly recommend checking out Run Fast. Eat Slow.  I truly believe that whether you’re a casual runner like me looking to train for something bigger, or a seasoned runner who has been running all their life, the recipes and helpful information included in this book can help provide nourishment to increase performance and speed recovery.

Formats Available: Book, eBook

Reviewed by Lindsay, St. Matthews Branch