The cacao bean contains more than 600 aromatic components.
When chocolate is handcrafted with care, it is likely to reveal a lot of those nuances. This is why chocolate makers are perfectionists when it comes to processing cacao beans. The more accurate they are, the more flavorful their chocolate will be.
From fruits to spices, chocolate has a wide range of flavors to offer. But if you regularly participate to chocolate tastings, you will notice many different opinions in the room.
Even when put in the same environmental conditions, tasters still come up with different tasting notes. Sometimes they even contrast with one another. This is a reality that we have come to accept: everybody tastes different things in chocolate. But have you ever stopped to wonder WHY ?
The time of the day, the weather and external conditions don’t seem to be crucial factors to explain such diversity. The answer has to be found somewhere else, between our palates, brains and hearts.
What makes a lot of difference is for example EXPERIENCE. The choices we make in our lives contribute to the expansion or reduction of our tasting abilities. Think about jobs.
A career in the food industry stimulates the palate more than working inside corporate offices. Chefs deal with a wide range of ingredients, whose flavors they can now easily detect in chocolate. Even with few years of experience, their palates have already been exposed to more flavors than the average person. The same goes for those who travel a lot or like to try new cuisines.
Passionate foodies are not afraid of unusual or bold dishes. Their bravery brings them closer to foreign spices, fruits and herbs that expand their tasting horizons. Those who eat the same food every day can’t benefit from the same advantage.
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Another factor that influences our ability to recognize flavors is our TERROIR.
Yes, like for fine cacao, our own terroir is important too.
The places where we grew up have an immense influence on our palates. The typical ingredients of our homeland or hometown stick to our memory for a very long time. They make us who we are and build up our preferences. But paradoxically, this doesn’t work in our advantage when tasting chocolate.
In fact, the flavors we are the most accustomed to are the hardest ones for us to recognize in other foods.
Someone born in Sicily, the land of juicy lemons and oranges, finds very hard to detect citrusy notes in chocolate. His taste buds are very used to zesty notes. So if those same notes come up in chocolate, they won’t be as noticeable to him as to someone who has rarely encountered them.
Another obvious example is someone born and raised in India. While your mouth was on fire, you probably heard your Indian friend at the table saying: “It’s not so spicy to me”. This is because spicy flavors are what she grew up with, so the sensitivity for those tasting notes is way reduced. Therefore, evident spicy notes in chocolate might not be so evident for someone so accustomed to them. Think also about professionals in the coffee industry. They usually have a very hard time recognizing coffee notes in chocolate. The constant interaction with that flavor has made them “immune”.
CHILDHOOD is another powerful variable.
Flavors last a very long time in our brain, especially those attached to sweet memories of our infancy. This is why a particular flavor can evoke events that happened a very long time before. Even if unconsciously, our ability to recognize flavors has been influenced since the time we were kids.
If your grandma used to make heavy-on-cinnamon cakes, your taste buds will sing with joy finding that same nuisance in chocolate. The same clarity and enthusiasm might not reach another person. Our palate has been uniquely altered since the beginning.
When you find it difficult to find or name the tasting notes of a chocolate bar, it’s not because you are “bad” at tasting. Your childhood, terroir and experience made you either too accustomed or not enough accustomed to certain flavors.
The best strategy to become a better chocolate taster is to (you guessed it!) taste as many new foods as possible and as much chocolate as possible to expand your inventory of flavors.
What tasting notes can YOU easily recognize in chocolate?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.