When two people agree that they love chocolate, there’s a good chance they’re imagining two entirely different flavors! Chocolate, especially finely crafted chocolate, comes in a vast variety, and even one type of chocolate such as “milk chocolate” can differ in terms of flavor notes, ingredient quality, and other subtle nuances. If you want to expand your chocolate palate to be able to distinguish these variations, then you will need to know what elements contribute to chocolate’s flavor and how to use all five of your senses to engage with them.
Cocoa Liquor (Mass):
Home cooks and chocolatiers will be familiar with this ingredient; it’s often sold as “unsweetened” chocolate in stores. Despite having “liquor” in the name, cocoa liquor is actually a pure cocoa mass made from ground cocoa nibs and typically comes in a solid or semi-solid form. It contains equal parts cocoa solids and cocoa butters and its flavor depends on many factors: where the cocoa nibs were grown, how they were fermented after harvest, and how they were roasted by the chocolate manufacturer. These processes will determine the chocolate’s base notes; you may notice bitterness, acidity, a burnt flavor, or a nutty flavor to name just a few possibilities. Cocoa liquor may be separated into cocoa butter and solids or it may be compressed into raw chocolate.
Cocoa butter is the vegetable fat that can be extracted from cocoa liquor. It is a pale cream color and has a cocoa aroma and flavor, but it contributes mostly to chocolate’s mouthfeel. It is a major ingredient in white, milk, and dark chocolate, and while sometimes it is substituted at least in part by other vegetable oils, the US mandates that a product must contain 100% cocoa butter to be called chocolate. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, but none of the cocoa solids, giving it its iconic color and milder flavor.
Sugar and Sweeteners:
The amount of sugar (or alternative sweetener) used can majorly affect the flavor of chocolate. While sugar can heighten the cocoa flavor by mellowing its bitterness or other overpowering base notes, too much sugar can overwhelm the chocolate as well as your tastebuds! For reference, popular American chocolate contains a higher sugar to cocoa ratio than most chocolates made elsewhere in the world.
Milk chocolate is, of course, made with milk, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that dairy significantly changes the flavor of chocolate. The milk can be processed and added to the chocolate in many different forms: dried milk powder, dried cream powder, sour milk, or milk crumb. Milk powder is the most common type used in milk chocolate; cream powder is often considered the highest quality option because it creates the silkiest mouthfeel; sour milk is another component that creates the characteristic flavor of American chocolate; and milk crumb imparts sweet, caramelized notes to chocolate.
Of course, many chocolates include additional flavors such as vanilla (or vanillin), nuts or nut oils, fruit or fruit extracts, and so much more! Chocolatiers are hard at work all over the world creating new, exciting flavor combinations.
When honing in on a chocolate’s unique flavors, tasting is about much more than just taste; it’s about all the ways chocolate can stimulate your senses.
The appearance of the chocolate can say a lot. Well-crafted chocolate should have a satiny gleam to it, rather than have a dull or gray, powdery finish.
Pure chocolate should not feel grainy. A grainy texture could indicate either temperature damage or that its sugar content is too high. Instead, it should be velvety and melt in your mouth. The faster it melts due to your body temperature shows a higher proportion of cocoa butter.
When breaking a piece from a chocolate bar, you should hear a strong, distinct snap. Snapping indicates that during production, the chocolate was properly tempered.
Take the opportunity to enjoy the chocolate’s aroma. Good chocolate should have a deep, rich chocolate smell in addition to fruity, nutty, or floral notes. Paying attention to the aroma can help you pick up on subtle flavors you might not have otherwise noticed. The aroma can also tip you off to certain aspects of the chocolate’s flavor you won’t enjoy, even before you taste it!
Last, but certainly not least, place the chocolate on your tongue and taste it. As previously mentioned, its mouthfeel should be full and velvety, and it should begin to melt before you chew it. In fact, you should allow it to melt on your tongue first to really experience all of its flavor facets. High quality chocolate will have a flavor that lingers with a long, pleasant finish. If it leaves an unpleasant, acidic taste or a greasy film in your mouth, it’s not high quality chocolate. Above all else, the chocolate should taste good to you! Personal preference is the most important factor when it comes to selecting the right chocolate.
Bonus Tip: Your environment can play a part in how chocolate tastes as well. The best chocolate in the USA may not taste like the best chocolate if your mood and senses are affected by unpleasant surroundings. Try getting comfortable and pampering yourself the next time you eat chocolate— you might be surprised by how different it tastes!
Test your new tasting skills with Japanese-style chocolates from ROYCE’. With a variety of textures, flavors, and combinations, there’s always something new to discover! Find a boutique near you or explore our collections online.