Everyone loves chocolate, right? It’s the perfect mix of sweet and bitter, and the combinations of ingredients that go beautifully with it are endless.
(Ever try bacon chocolate? I have and I’m hesitant to admit for fear of being judged that, yes, it is indeed quite good.) Have you ever wondered where this decadent treat comes from, or what it is exactly? Have you ever wondered what it is that makes you feel so good when eating it or if it is bad for you like the rest of the desserts we love so much? Well, I recently had the privilege of speaking with the corporate events planner, Rodolfo Espinal Martinez, at MarieBelle; a famous chocolate shop located in Soho, New York that describes itself as “a unique pleasure” and “an experience no chocolate-lover should miss.” Rodolfo was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and help me come up with some interesting chocolate facts that will help turn regular chocolate consumers into chocolate connoisseurs.
Where does chocolate come from?
Chocolate comes from the seeds of a tree called "Theobroma Cacao" which is native to South America, Central America, and Mexico.
What types of chocolate are there?
There are three types of chocolate: dark, milk and white.
Dark chocolate and milk chocolate both contain Cacao Liqueur (the main ingredient in chocolate; the more liqueur it has, the darker the chocolate will be. This is what the bar percentage you will sometimes see on a wrapper refers to), cocoa solids or cocoa powder, sugar, cocoa butter and the emulsifier (the most commonly known emulsifier is soy lecithin), and milk solid.
White Chocolate is made up of cocoa butter, milk solid, sugar and vanilla. This type of chocolate has no cacao liqueur or cocoa solids. “Because of this, many people do not consider white chocolate to be real chocolate at all,” says Rodolpho.
The flavors of each will depend on the ingredients used and the processes by which they are made. Milk chocolate and white chocolate typically tend to be the sweetest of the three while darker chocolate, though still sweet, tends to have a more bitter taste. The most consumed chocolate in the United States, according to Hershey's, is milk chocolate. Those that are health conscious tend to go for darker chocolate because of its many health benefits which are described further in this article.
The many flavors in chocolate
Cacao seeds naturally have a bitter taste so they must be fermented to create the flavors we are familiar with. There are four varieties of cacao - Criollo, Forastero, Trinitario and Nacional. The taste of each chocolate highly depends on which type of cacao is used, what process was used during fermentation and roasting, and what region it came from.
According to MarieBelle, “These variations can cause subtle differences. Consider: coastal Venezuelan cacao beans have a dairy flavor, while mountain-grown beans have a typical nuttiness. In the case of many English milk chocolates, there's a caramel flavor that comes from the caramelization of the milk, part of their chocolate-making process.”
There are fifteen hundred flavor components when it comes to chocolate. So, if you think you’re tasting things like coconut, cherry, or even orchid, you’re probably right. All of those are notes that belong to chocolate.
Tips from MarieBelle on chocolate tasting
“You're free to come up with your own interpretations in your own words. Have fun with language, and in decoding all the minute subtleties in a tiny piece of luscious, delectable chocolate!” - MarieBelle
In other words, have fun with it.
They go on to say that there are no rules to chocolate tasting, but give some advice on questions to consider when describing chocolate flavors for your records:
- What does the chocolate feel like on the tongue? Is it smooth, thin or creamy?
- Uniform, grainy or uneven?
- How complex are the flavors? Do they seem multi-dimensional, and multi-layered? Or are they simple?
- If it's intense, would you describe it as brave, strong, full-bodied?
- How long do the tastes last? Are they fleeting and quick? Slow and lasting?
Tips on pairing chocolate with food and drinks
You should consider two things when pairing chocolate with drinks or food: color and flavor notes. It is very similar to pairing food and wine. In considering the color, light colored drinks pair well with light colored chocolates (milk and white), while dark colored drinks pair wonderfully with dark chocolate. When considering flavor notes, take a look at what region the food or drink is from. Foods from different regions often have similar flavors and therefore tend to pair well.
Example: Chocolate from Columbia tends to have sweet, roasted notes, as does Columbian coffee. The two would pair quite well.
Does chocolate really have any health benefits?
We are in luck! Chocolate does, in fact, have health benefits--particularly dark chocolate, which contains less cocoa butter and sugar. A chemical called theobromine is found in cacao liqueur. This chemical speeds up your metabolism very similarly to caffeine without the “crashing” effect. Theobromine may also help improve one's mood.1
Additionally, antioxidants in chocolate called polyphenols have been known, through research, to regulate immune system functions in humans.2 The research on whether chocolate has health benefits and what those benefits are will continue and we'll let the scientists work this out.
You know what this means, if you ask me? Eat more chocolate!
Chocolate can be more than just a dessert; it can be an experience. As we've discovered, making chocolate is a process and is not all the same. It is a masterpiece for the senses to be enjoyed by anyone with a little knowledge and the desire to indulge in something sweet.
About the Chocolate Expert
Rodolfo Espinal Martinez was born and raised in Honduras where he was surrounded by the cacao tree, which is where he believes his passion for chocolate originated. He later moved to New York landing his current job with MarieBelle and furthering his love for the sweet. Inspired by wine tastings, he began conducting chocolate tastings at the MarieBelle store, where he taught customers the history of chocolate, as well as how to use all their senses to find different flavor notes and fully enjoy their chocolate.
MarieBelle was founded by Maribel, also native to Honduras. Skilled as a chef and educated as a designer, she fuses her two passions together to create her many creations. The shop boasts not only beautiful, delicious chocolates, but an unforgettable ambience complete with a cacao bar and tea salons that “provide the perfect respite from a bustling day, and offer a refined menu of light fare and revitalizing beverages.”
1 Marano, Ham Estroff. Psychology Today, Mar/Apr 2011, Vol. 44 Issue 2, p 44-45.
2Sanbongi C, Suzuki N, Sakane T. "Polyphenols in chocolate, which have antioxidant activity, modulate immune functions in humans in vitro." Cell Immunology, May 1997; 177(2):129-36.