Why try dark chocolate?

The main subject of this blog will be dark chocolate. Quality dark chocolate. Although I might add additional chocolates that intrigue me.

But why choose fine quality dark chocolate?

What you are used to eat isn’t real chocolate

Many people ask why they should try these high percentage chocolates. After all, the stores are filled with loads of chocolates and they are as cheap as anything. Even I was convinced that in Belgium, they produce the best chocolate.

Chocolate is made out of cacao. A produce that has a high price if you want a good quality bean. Yet bulk chocolate is cheap. That doesn’t up, right? Correct, it doesn’t. Bulk chocolate manufacturers like the Kraft, Nestlé, Hershey, Cadbury group use cacao that is selected to produces as big a bean as possible, as quick as possible. But these beans lack the interesting tastes found in the good quality beans.

Next, they use a reduced amount of cacao. Here in Belgium, dark chocolate contains about 40% cacao substances. The beans are roasted and if this isn’t done accurately, a bitterness will come through. Large companies don’t have enough time to change roasting times for each batch, so they add loads of sugar, aromas and additives like chemical vanilla, to produce a product with a constant flavor, so sweet that almost 99% of the consumers will like it.

However, this way, all the remarkable tastes that cacao can bring, aren’t present in the final product.

Single origin or small batch chocolate makers use only a couple of products in their chocolate. Cacao, sugar and an emulsifier like soy lecithin. They play with several elements in the chocolate production, to obtain a pure chocolate typically over 60% cacao, with a specific taste. There vision is to bring out the best of the cacao, rather than to bring tons and tons of chocolate on the market. This way, chocolate comes very close to the original taste of the cacao.

It’s all in the bean

Cacao isn’t a single product. It’s a bean that grows on a cacao plant and comes in different varieties. Compare it with wine grapes. Many varieties create very different end products.

The best cacao beans are called Criollo and Trinitatrio. Both deliver smaller bean pods and are quiet susceptible to diseases, causing smaller harvests. They do offer a unparallelled pallet in tastes, which delivers a superior chocolate, providing the chocolate maker masters the production process.  These beans make up for 20% of the world’s production of chocolate.

A third variety is the Forastero bean. Deriving from the first varieties, this enhanced cacao plant provides bigger fruits and is far more resistant to diseases, assuring the farmer a much bigger harvest. Sadly this comes at a cost. the taste is a lot less subtle than those of the Criollo and Trinitatrio beans. Yet this bean makes up for 80% of the world’s production of chocolate. Yep, you guessed it, the bulk chocolates.

Fine chocolate is most often made out of Criollo and Trinitario, though when using good quality Forastero and carefully blending, it can bring a great product too.

To complicate things further, not only the variety of the bean makes a difference, even the place where they are grown does!
Much like terroirs in wine, or regions in Single Malt Whisky, the local circumstances bear down on the taste of the final product.

Some of the main chocolate regions are:

South America: Venezuela, Peru, Dominican Republic, Ecuador,…

Africa: Madagascar, Ivory Coast, Ghana,…

Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia,…

Each “terroir” brings its own specific tastes, like fruityness, tobacco, floral tastes,…

Chocolate and health

Though it’s not the most important thing I search in these fine chocolate, health issues seem to be big when you start your search in the chocolate world. I’m in it for the taste, but high percentage chocolate actually brings several health benefits.

First and before all, high percentage chocolate contain way less sugar, causing a lower calorie count per serving. Which makes it acceptable for people following diets or have to reduce their sugar intake.

Next are the minerals, anti-oxidants, flavonoids,… Much discussion is going on about the actual benefits and how much one should eat before starting to notice the effects. Especially confusing is the “raw” chocolate movement. Raw chocolate should be made without heating the products, so it should contain more favorable health elements, though others state there is no such thing as raw chocolate, since every step of the production generates heat.

Right, but isn’t high percentage chocolate extremely bitter?

Nope. Ha, you didn’t expect that, did you. It’s widely thought that high percentage of cacao equals a unedible, bitter product.

It can be bitter, is you have lower grade beans, used in a less than good production process. But really nice chocolate offers a delicate blend of different tastes who evolve during eating. Bitterness can be a part of it, but surely not the main taste.

We are accustomed to the sweet taste of mass production chocolate, so slowly building up your palate towards the higher percentages is a good way to go about it. You will get used to the less sweet taste and be intrigued by all the other aroma’s you get in its place! Just like I was.

Just to give you a little idea, here are some tastes I already noted in good chocolate: red fruits (raspberry, strawberry), yellow fruits, pineapple, cappuccino, espresso coffee, tobacco, floral notes, wood, tannins, smoke, chestnut, cinnamon,… the list seems endless. You try to taste those in bulk chocolate, you won’t find it. And that’s why I adore fine chocolate so much, it keeps throwing new experiences at me.

So there you go. Why don’t you give it a try? It will be worth it!

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