Flavour is a complex and strange thing. The way people perceive it is ultimately so personal. One person’s ‘straw’ might be another’s ‘grass.’
Some people are particularly good at tasting. I remember doing a test in which I had to identify smells from essences on balls of cotton wool in test tubes. Without the physical ingredient it was surprisingly hard. And then there is the matter of preference - the Marmite factor.
Wine experts merrily describe layers of flavour in microscopic detail. I don’t take that approach with chocolate. This is not because chocolate is any less complex. There are in fact more than 400 identified flavours in cacao.
On my Flavour Map you will find all the major categories, but I have deliberately not made a complete list of the types within them – it is a map to help you find your own way.
When you are tasting a chocolate if you have these categories in mind it will help direct your taste in the right direction. At its simplest you can think of the nutty side of the wheel and the fruity side.
This month we are exploring the vibrant world of citrus, in fruits, in herbs and of course in the chocolate.
The single estate dark chocolates in this collection are on the fruity side. Start with the San Agustin 88 as it is the darkest then move on to San Agustin 70. Can you taste how the flavour notes vary with the different sugar levels? The 88% has much more prominent red fruit notes, while the 70% is more honeyed, even a touch nutty. The Sambirano 71 is the closest to citrus, it really is quite zesty. While the fine Criollo Chulucanas 70 has much softer notes of raisins and plums. Isn’t cacao wonderful?
Maybe have a little break, to allow your taste buds to reset, then taste Orange Almond 100% cacao. I haven’t added any sugar to this or the Raisin Hazelnut 100%. All the sweetness comes simply from the fruit and nuts. This means Orange Almond really is quite intense because the orange we use is an essence. It’s the same essence as you are tasting in Luscious Orange. Beautiful. 100% Natural. It takes me straight to the Mediterranean. Finally we have Hazelnut Raisin but this time made with a 70% Chulucanas dark chocolate. Notice how I am pairing the cacao with the other ingredients.
Did you know that all citrus fruits are hybrids of three original species? Pomelo, mandarin orange and citron. They have evolved on a spectrum of sweet (eg mandarin)to sour ( eg white grapefruit). It is their sourness that makes their flavours carry so perfectly in chocolate. When citrus notes appear in other things like chocolate and herbs, they are one of many layers of flavour, but no less citrusy for that.
Here are my handmade chocolates of the month….
Grapefruit & Cranberry. Baracoa 65 dark chocolate with grapefruit and cranberry
Made famous by Sea Breeze cocktails this flavour combination is the taste of summer. Both grapefruit and cranberry are on the tart side so need the honey notes of the Baracoa cacao to complete the party.
Lemon verbena & Sour Cherries. Baracoa 65 dark chocolate with sour cherries, lemon verbena & chia
Lemon verbena with its gentle aromatic lemon notes deserves a much larger place in the culinary world. Here it creates the perfect stage for the sour cherries and chia, performing an elegant dance with the honey notes in the cacao.